When turnout gear can turn deadly

(Emily Thurlow) Lee Fire Chief Ryan Brown shows the comparison between new and old turnout gear in the station.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Dirty, soot-laden turnout gear has traditionally been seen as a badge of honor for firefighters. But as it turns out, that badge isn’t doing anyone any favors.

In fact, the filthy gear has been shown to present more danger to firefighters than the flames they fight.

From Jan. 1, 2002 to March 31, 2017, cancer was the cause of 61 percent of line-of-duty deaths for career firefighters, according to data from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).

In an effort to combat cancer, fire departments in Berkshire County are making an effort to come clean. The times and realities have changed, said Lee Fire Chief Ryan Brown.

“The dirtier gear was, the better,” said Brown, a fifth-generation firefighter that grew up in Templeton. “Now, we have wipes on the truck to wipe our necks and faces as soon as we return to the truck. We’re taking showers immediately following a fire and not waiting to go home. … Things are changing, but this change is good. It’s vital.”

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