Read the full article by Karen Hensel and Daniel Cohen (7 News Miami)
(WSVN) – It’s a story that could affect every firefighter in Florida and across the country. It’s about their gear, their health and why they’re sounding the alarm. The Nightteam’s Karen Hensel has this special assignment report: Fighting More Than Fire.
Palm Beach County firefighter Ric Jorge had been living his dream.
Ric Jorge: ‘I’ve always wanted to be a fireman for as far back as I can remember.’
His helmet carries visible scars of his fire fights, but now, he suspects the gear designed to protect him could have actually hurt him.
Ric Jorge: ‘It was not about if I get cancer, it’s when I get cancer.’
Firefighters have known for years they have higher cancer rates.
Ric was diagnosed with colon cancer last year.
Ric Jorge, retired Palm Beach County firefighter: ‘You see the statistics and the different types of cancer. I just looked at it realistically and said, “All right, it’s just a matter of time.”‘
Diane Cotter, husband is a retired Worcester, MA firefighter: ‘Paul was an amazing firefighter, truly a fireman’s firefighter.’
When Diane Cotter’s husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014, she was determined to find out why, even though she had no medical training.
Diane Cotter: ‘I have barely a 12th grade education, and I have an expired hair dresser’s license.’
So, she researched, started asking questions, then zeroed in on the protective suits known as turnout gear that firefighters wear to every call.
She asked manufacturers what was in the gear.
Diane Cotter: ‘”Well, we can’t tell you because it’s proprietary.”‘
But she didn’t give up.
She found Notre Dame nuclear physicist Graham Peaslee, who agreed to test the suits.
Graham Peaslee: ‘I had not seen anything that high before, and so that’s what made me concerned.’
Peaslee’s test found the gear was soaked in a toxic chemical called polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS…”