ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — St. Lucie County received new equipment Tuesday to better protect them during high-risk incidents, and to meet industry standards.
Firefighters are exposed to all kinds of harmful chemicals and carcinogens that can stay on their gear and clothing.
“Anything that’s burning in a house, garage or wherever we might be is all carcinogens,” said Firefighter and EMT Benn Francoeur.
Tuesday, firefighters received new air packs that are easier to clean and more protective. They are also following new decontamination policies.
This comes after their old equipment fell below the most recent industry standards, which set stricter equipment guidelines. Newer guidelines include changes to when firefighters are notified about lower oxygen levels in the air packs, requiring the ability to communicate through an intercom in their air packs, and updating the quality of the masks.
The St. Lucie County Fire District said having the gear below industry standards created huge safety concerns, especially as cancer risk is top of mind for firefighters.
“It affects more firemen than a lot of regular civilian jobs,” Francoeur said.
Fire and rescue trucks were all equipped with the new air packs.
“We’re all excited,” Francoeur said. “They’re definitely safer. They feel better, easier to work with.”
The more protective masks are expected to do a better job at keeping out harmful toxins.
“These new masks do have a wider seal so it’s harder to break the seal when you’re working, looking down or anything. Before, you’d get some air leaks,” Francoeur said.
Firefighters will also be alerted sooner when their air levels are getting low.
Communication between firefighters will also improve with a built-in speaker.
“We can communicate a lot easier,” Francoeur said.
Decontaminating the gear of carcinogens will also be easier, with parts that easily detach to be washed. Before, the packs were scrubbed, which wasn’t as thorough of a decontamination.
This will go hand in hand with new decontamination policies that went into effect in the last few months.
“We’re going to spray each other off and hose each other down and scrub everything,” Francouer said, while also using newer decontamination kits. “With the new cancer awareness stuff coming out, we actually got granted these decontamination kits.”
Better protecting firefighters means they can better serve their community.
"It’s going to help us do our jobs quicker, better, more efficient, safer, which helps everybody out,” Francouer said.
The new equipment cost more than $1 million. The fire district says the gear will not need to be replaced for a long time and can be upgraded without being replaced.