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Statesboro Fire Department completes specialized training
Course to aid in firefighter safety
W Nessmith Web
Statesboro Fire Department Captain Lee Nessmith shows off some of the protective clothing firefighters wear. - photo by Special

The Statesboro Fire Department recently completed in-house training on atmospheric air monitoring during and after working fires, said Statesboro Fire Chief Tim Grams.

The course, created and taught by SFD Captain Merritt Kearns,  focused on the types of hazards that are present in the atmosphere when firefighters are actively working, the health risks that are associated with those hazards, and the best tactics to avoid coming into contact with them, he said.

“Firefighters are bombarded with toxins when they fight fires,” Kearns said. “The smoke found at structure fires contains particles that are full of cancer-causing agents. These agents enter the body when they are inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Over the course of a career, firefighters can be exposed to an alarming amount of cancer-causing agents.”

Statesboro Fire Department Captain Lee Nessmith said the course really hit home. The 11-year fire department veteran recently underwent a successful procedure to remove cancerous cells from the side of his face, and discovered that his own cancer may have been a direct result of repeated contact with and exposure to diesel fumes, toxins, and other hazards that are commonly found in the line of a firefighter’s duty, he said.

“We were given a lot of statistics on different cancers and health problems and I started wondering what the chances were that mine may be occupationally related,” he said. “The spot I had to treat on my face fell directly under my face piece seal and it actually kept me off the line for several weeks during the treatment process.  I discovered through several other USFA cancer studies that diesel exhaust and soot are leading causes of squamous cell carcinoma, which I had.”

SFD Training Division Chief Bobby Duggar said the Statesboro Fire Department is taking a hard stance against cancer and in consideration of the well-being of firefighters, both in the short and long term.

"As studies and statistics continue to be produced about firefighter health and safety, we are committed to protecting our firefighters not only in the short term by providing more realistic training, better personal protective equipment, and safer apparatus; but we are looking ahead 10, 20, 30 years down the road- long after they have hung up their helmets for the last time,” he said. “And (we are) ensuring that we are doing everything in our realm of control to safeguard against the cancers and other job related illnesses that affect so many of our fellow firefighters”

This includes “comprehensive wellness exams, mandatory participation in physical fitness, and now atmospheric monitoring at structure fires in addition to a number of other programs that we offer” he said.

With firefighter safety on the forefront of the department’s concerns, new policies are being developed and enacted, and firefighters are becoming more personally proactive in taking precautions. “Whether or not it was directly related to my condition, I have changed the way I approach the job.  I take even better care of my gear and I am very mindful where I place it, as well as much more frequent washing of my hands, face and gear, especially when it is exposed to any smoke, soot, or concentrated exhaust,” Nessmith said.

In addition to the recent purchase of new air monitoring equipment to go on fire apparatus, both state and federal grants are being researched as possible additional funding sources in efforts to acquire a second set of full turnout gear for each firefighter, in order to provide them with the ability to completely change out their gear after particularly hazardous calls where they may be overly contaminated by cancer-causing or biological agents.





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