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Burnet OKs purchase of spare gear for fire department over cancer concerns

Burnet Fire Department

Burnet Fire Chief Mark Ingram presented a proposal for purchasing more bunker gear during a Burnet City Council meeting February 11. Staff photo by Alex Copeland

The Burnet City Council unanimously approved the purchase of 12 sets of spare bunker gear and a gear dryer for the fire department for an estimated $50,000 at its meeting February 11.

The purchase could help protect firefighters from higher incidences of cancer due to contaminants.

The gear is needed to meet new regulatory rules that go into effect March 1. The rules were adopted by the Texas Commission on Fire Protection.

Under this new rule, after a fire, firefighters must hose down bunker gear, wash that gear in an extractor, and issue temporary gear for use in the interim. Without the extra gear, firefighters cannot immediately return to duty.

“We do have a choice: The choice is we buy more bunker gear or, after a fire, we have to put that firetruck and that firefighter out of service until we can clean all of that gear, dry it, and get it back to them,” Fire Chief Mark Ingram said at the council meeting. “Currently, that takes two to three days.”

The extra caution is due to concerns that firefighters are exposed to contaminants more dangerous than previously thought. Recent studies have found pollutants in structure fires are sometimes carcinogenic.

“Over the years, cancer among firefighters has just gone up and up and up,” Ingram said. “It’s getting so common now that (workers’ compensation) is actually treating these, if you’re a firefighter, as an on-the-job injury.”

The approved purchase also includes a hose and turnout dryer to speed up the lengthy turnaround for cleaning gear.

“These people that protect us, our firemen, I would like to protect them,” councilor Mary Jane Shanes said. “We don’t want them getting cancer because we didn’t pony up $50,000.”

The 12 sets of bunker gear cost an estimated $28,000 and the hose and turnout dryer cost an estimated $22,000.