Grants sought to protect firefighters

Tribune Chronicle / Jon Wysochanski Weathersfield fire Capt. Tom Lambert suits up in his turnout gear Friday. The department, along with several others, is seeking grant money to purchase equipment and gear aimed at preventing cancer in firefighters.

WEATHERSFIELD — Township officials are hoping to secure a number of grants to improve the fire department while emphasizing firefighter safety and cancer prevention.

Fire Chief Randall Pugh said the department is in the process of seeking several grants, along with the McDonald, Cortland and Lordstown departments, for a variety of equipment including a diesel exhaust filtration system that sucks exhaust out of the truck bays. Such a system would cost approximately $110,000 for the township’s three stations and would be funded from the budget and about $70,000 in grant money for which township Administrator David Rouan is applying.

Getting a filtration system installed is important, Pugh said, because firefighters are at a risk of cancer because of the carcinogens in diesel exhaust. The state acknowledged such risks last year through passage of a firefighter cancer bill that addresses how causes of such cancer are viewed when it comes to getting benefits through workers’ compensation and the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation created the grant to reduce dangerous environmental element exposure among firefighters, according to the bureau. If a firefighter gets cancer, the bureau will cover them for up to 10 years after an incident under the new firefighter cancer presumption law.

Firefighters also are exposed to carcinogens at fires, and the department has been proactive in addressing this by washing gear in a special washing machine, and emphasizing cleaning of equipment both on the scene and at the station. However, Pugh said clean gear is then exposed to diesel exhaust when trucks are running.

Existing hoods, worn under helmets and masks, don’t block carcinogens, but instead absorb carcinogens, which are then directly exposed to skin. Newer hoods, which cost around $89 a piece, have an extra layer of material designed to block carcinogens. New hoods will be purchased through existing budget money, Pugh said.

For Pugh, who is battling lymphoma that he was diagnosed with in June, the prevention of cancer in his crew is a top priority.

“I have 40 years of service and when you get diagnosed they don’t tell you what caused the cancer,” Pugh said. “But I have no cancer in my family, don’t smoke, don’t drink and I have no reason to have this problem.”

Not only does Pugh have cancer, but several other older Weathersfield firefighters have battled bladder, throat and skin cancers.

“I have a younger department now and I’m going to protect them,” Pugh said. “I have a lot more knowledge than the chief did in 1977 when he was doing the job. I want to make sure my firefighters are taken care of and they don’t have the same problem at 58 that I sit here with.”

Rouan said minimizing the risk of cancer through up-to-date equipment and practices is a must.

“Now that we’ve become more aware to potential issues with diesel exhaust, we are going to try to address it,” Rouan said.

The department also is seeking grants for a 2,000-gallon tanker pumper truck and the replacement of 26 breathing apparatuses, the newest of which is a decade old, that cost $6,200 apiece.

In October, the Bazetta Fire Department announced it received a grant to purchase a washer to clean a variety of different carcinogens and blood-borne pathogens, 25 protection hoods and 25 sets of protection gloves.