Dallas firefighters call for new equipment that could protect them from carcinogens

As a national effort to track the connection between firefighters and cancer surges onward, so does a campaign to outfit Dallas firefighters with new equipment.

President Donald Trump signed the firefighter cancer registry act Monday. The act will collect data on firefighters who have cancer and assess whether they are getting proper treatment and compensation.

In Dallas, cancer has hit the department hard. Several firefighters have succumbed to the illness in recent years, sparking a push for new equipment that would better protect firefighters from the soot and airborne debris that they are often exposed to while fighting fires.

“You’ll go home the next morning and blow your nose,” Dallas Firefighter Association President Captain Jim McDade said. “You’re still blowing out black stuff.”

In Dallas, the cost for new gear for 1,800 firefighters would be about $4 million. It’s a cost that many are saying the city can’t afford to delay.

“We have 32 cases of cancer in the fire department,” McDade said. “[There are] guys on active duty presently battling cancer, all due to what exposed to when working.”

Other cities have ponied up the money for more gear. Grapevine was among the first. The city got its 100 firefighters a second set of gear so they’d have fresh gear for a new call.

“Building materials have changed greatly,” Grapevine Fire Department Assistant Chief Stuart Grant said. “10-15-20 years ago, most things were wooden, now everything is plastic. Chairs are synthetic instead of cotton. It puts off a thicker, nastier residue in the smoke, [with] more carcinogens.”

With Dallas’ 2018-2019 budget all but set, McDade wants the city to reconsider and put firefighter safety first.

Dallas councilman Adam McGough says he doesn’t know where that money would come from, but he wants to find it. The council will discuss it when it reconvenes in August.