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'Healthy Heroes' group fundraising to protect firefighters' health

Posted at 4:22 PM, Feb 21, 2018

CINCINNATI -- Firefighters face dangers like extreme heat, falling debris and collapsing structures.

The other dangers they face may be less obvious. Kerry Roe, president of accounting firm Clark Schaefer Hackett, said firefighters also face "unseen risks" like cancer from chemicals and toxins.

Now, the Healthy Heroes program is helping to counter that. Clark Schaefer Hackett is hoping to help raise $80,000 to buy decontamination units for local fire departments. 

Supporters of the decontamination units say they work.

"Use your body's natural detoxification -- sweat -- to get these chemicals out of your body in a very expedited way so we hope this could contribute to their long-term health," Roe said. 

Studies show firefighters' consistent exposure to toxins in smoke and soot may put them at a higher risk for cancer. Cincinnati fire, like many other departments, do their part to reduce that cancer risk by using protective gear. But leaders said they're also open to the idea of another health safeguard. 

"We're really kind of early on in figuring out what are the best methods to get these toxins out of our skin," firefighter union President Matt Alter said. "One of the fastest rates of absorption of these agents is through the skin."

The decontamination units are essentially a medical-grade infrared sauna equipped with an exercise bike inside. After fighting a fire, crews spend time inside to release contaminants.

"They're able to sweat easier without raising their core body temperature," Roe said. "It's a much more efficient way to get these toxins out of their skin."

The Healthy Heroes program is just getting started, and they're currently about 15 percent of the way to their goal. Anyone interested in donating can click here for more information.