First in the state to get a new kind of turnout gear, Myrtle Beach Fire Department fights cancer

Myrtle Beach firefighter Michael Samuel Lowder tries on his new turnout gear at Station 6 off 38th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach. Behind Lowder is a display of various gear used throughout the years. The new gear, made by Red Lion, is designed to block carcinogenic particles from the firefighters while allowing for greater mobility. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Jeff Krichten adjusted his suspenders and looked around the room at fellow Myrtle Beach firefighters trying on new turnout gear.

“It is lighter,” he said slipping into his black coat and raising his eyebrows as he fingers slid through the wristlet. “It feels pretty good. It does feel good.”

The new gear will not only protect the firefighters in fires, Chief Tom Gwyer said, but it’s designed to lower the chances of getting cancer with specially made cuffs around the neck, wrists, waist and ankles. And, he said, the material used to make the gear is lighter and helps to wick sweat so the firefighters won’t become overheated compared to the old gear.

Krichten and 20 other city firefighters were given new turnout gear made by Red Lion on Tuesday. About 30 other firefighters will be fitted for new gear and are expected to receive their hoods, coats, pants and suspenders within six months.

Gwyer said there are 153 active duty firefighters operating three shifts of 51 people every day of the year. The department usually rotates in new turnout gear for 20 firefighters every five years.

The new gear costs $2,500 per firefighter as opposed to the $1,900 price tag for the old gear.

The special part of the new gear is it’s designed to reduce a firefighter’s exposure to carcinogens, according to Chris Catalano of North American Fire Equipment Company. He said the cuffs on bottom of the pants slip over the boots and stops smoke from entering the lower part of the body. The eight-inch core guard cuff around the waist prevents particles and smoke from entering the center part of the body. The wristlets will be inside the gloves and prevents particles and smoke from exposure just as the neck guards and hoods.

Catalano said Myrtle Beach is the first department to receive the new gear in the state.

Gwyer had said finding ways to fight cancer among firefighters would be a top priority as he became the city’s chief in 2018.

Gwyer said there are five Myrtle Beach firefighters dealing with cancer.

He pointed out, statistically, firefighters are more prone to getting cancer than the general population because when stuff burns carcinogens are released.

“You can see it, when some of our guys wear white T-shirts, after a fire they are covered in soot and dirt where they were exposed,” he said. “It’s dirty, that’s what you see, on them, around their neck where the thyroid is.”

Firefighters are at a 9% higher risk of getting cancer than the general population and at a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the International Association of Fire Fighters Line of Duty Deaths Database. The database states cancer diagnosis and deaths among firefighters have increased in the past 20 years. Firefighters face high rates of testicular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and kidney cancers than others.

In addition to the new gear, Gwyer said, the department is taking other steps to fight cancer. He said five of the six stations have an exhaust capture ventilation system installed to rid the bays of diesel fumes once the engines pull into the bays after a call. He said other initiatives include making sure each firefighter wears sunscreen when they are on the beach or outside not in their gear; using baby wipes to clean around their faces and hands after each fire; and never wearing soiled hoods under their helmets so as to limit the amount of particles near their faces and noses. He added each station is moving the ice machines from the bays to inside locations to avoid any ice contamination.

Janet Morgan is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. Contact her at 843-488-7258 or at janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com.

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