New RTP company sets out to help protect firefighters from job-related cancers

Durham County News

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (WNCN) – Firefighters rely on their gear to protect them from heat, toxins, and cancer-causing chemicals. Now, Underwriters Laboratories, based in Research Triangle Park, has a new lab where scientists are working to make sure that gear is providing the best protection possible.

Most firefighters can tell stories about the loss of a friend or a coworker — not to fire, but to cancer.

“We had a firefighter, just a little over a year ago, passed away due to cancer, and he was a young guy,” said Chris Iannuzzi, Deputy Chief of the Durham Fire Department.

RELATED: Durham firefighters using research to understand work-related cancer risks

“We do know that firefighters, right now in the U.S., are seeing an increased number of cancer rates,” added Sean DeCrane with Underwriters Laboratories.

Researchers at UL are working to change that by focusing on the gear firefighters wear for protection.

“There is a lot of bad stuff out there that is trying to get on us, whether it’s in a fire, whether it’s at a chemical spill,” said Iannuzzi, explaining the importance of personal protective equipment. “It’s got to keep all that stuff off us.”

“We can’t eliminate the firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens and toxins when they are fighting the fires, but what we can do is we can control the efficiency of the cleaning of the gear,” said DeCrane.

At UL’s new lab, scientists are studying whether cleaning processes are effective at removing dangerous particles.

“What we want to do is make sure the gear is clean, that they are not absorbing the toxins, the chemicals, the carcinogens they’ve been exposed to in previous incidents,” DeCrane said.

The lab also tests new gear to make sure it’s resistant to chemicals and biological material.

“This is near and dear to my heart,” DeCrane said.

He spent 26 years as a firefighter before working for UL. Like so many others, he lost friends to job-related cancer.

“They died way too young,” he recalled.

Firefighters and researchers hope this new lab will find better ways to keep firefighters safe and healthy so they can focus on saving others.

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