New training will help Oxfordshire firefighters protect themselves and others from harmful contaminants and help prevent cancer and other diseases.
It aims to reduce the risk to firefighters’ health from the toxic substances which are produced by fires.
UK firefighters surveyed as part of University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) research were four times more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer than the general population.
It is thought that firefighters’ exposure to those toxic substances, or ‘contaminants’, could be playing a part.
The new training launched by the union, called DECON, encourages firefighters to act before, during and after every fire incident to help reduce their own, their co-workers’ and their families’ exposure.
It encourages simple behaviours such as better cleaning for themselves and their kit. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said there is a long-standing culture in the fire service of viewing dirty kit as a ‘badge of honour’.
Firefighters are also being advised to ‘decontaminate before you drive’, and shower and change at work within an hour of attending a fire.
The training was launched this week ahead of the anniversary of 9/11.
US studies have revealed that firefighters who attended the terrorist attacks have an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.
Steve Wright, who has been an Oxfordshire firefighter for 20 years, and is executive council member at the FBU, said: “Most firefighters will know a colleague who is battling, or has battled, with cancer.
“It affects us all in the fire service and can be devastating. This training aims to help to make this less frequent. We’re looking forward to seeing it in action and hopefully helping save lives.”
He added: “Through consultation by Oxfordshire FBU representatives I am really pleased that Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Service have endorsed this vital training for our members and are rolling the training out across the service.
“This is a great example of unions working with employers to focus on the health and wellbeing of all staff.”
The training was developed with UCLan’s professor in fire chemistry and toxicity Anna Stec.
Professor Stec said her research shows that UK firefighters are frequently exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals during and after a fire.
She said: “Our best practice report combined with this training, as well as our cancer and disease registry and national health screening, will allow us to increase awareness among firefighters of the impact of toxic fire effluents on their health.
“Through ongoing research, we will help to keep firefighters safe and reduce the occurrence of cancer and other diseases within this lifesaving profession.”
Oxford MP Anneliese Dodds is supporting the campaign.