MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The Myrtle Beach Fire Department is taking steps to help reduce cancer risks among its ranks.
The department is the first in the state to purchase a unique protective gear that keeps them safe from a silent threat that lingers among the flames.
“All those cancer-causing agents that are in that soot that are in that dirt and grime that are on them, are absorbing into their bodies,” said Myrtle Beach Fire Chief Tom Gwyer.
Firefighters battle more than just the fires they face head-on, as they’re exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals that could cause cancer.
“Statistically speaking, firefighters are at a much higher risk of contracting cancer than the general public,” said Gwyer.
In an effort to reduce those risks, Myrtle Beach firefighters are donning new gear to shield their bodies from dangerous carcinogens.
“What we’ve designed is a system that blocks the particulates to the best of their abilities from saturating into the skin," said Chris Catalano, territory manager for North American Fire Equipment Company.
It’s called “particulate protection technology,” acting as a barrier to stop smoke from going up firefighters’ arms, legs, and bodies. Protection from those toxic substances is a priority for Gwyer. He said in the past five years, five active-duty firefighters within their department were diagnosed with cancer.
“We just had a firefighter diagnosed not even a month ago. So it’s a real epidemic in the fire service and it’s something that we want to minimize the risk to our employees and this is the first step to hopefully try and curb that trend," said Gwyer.
Each set of new gear comes at a price tag of $2,500. A total of 21 firefighters received that gear Tuesday, but the department plans to fit about 30 more firefighters to receive the gear in the coming months.