Sault Firefighters get new, safer gear

Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services unveiled new gear for its team of 80 frontline firefighters at its No. 1 Firehall, Thursday.

Fire Chief Peter Johnson hailed the new protection as a “significant stride forward” in safeguarding firefighters, adding Sault Fire Services is one of the first departments in Canada to get the new gear.

The outgoing gear was deemed unfit for use. It contained Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS, some of which have been linked to cancer, including testicular, kidney, breast and bladder cancer through lengthy exposure.

“We definitely have had members of our fire service diagnosed with cancer,” said Johnson. “We have presumptive cancers that are known in our industry and a number of our firefighters, mainly the retirees, have been diagnosed with cancer. Is it a direct link to the bunker gear? I don’t know, but I know this (purchase of PFAS-free gear) is a step in the right direction.”

Johnson said PFAS has been a topic in the firefighting community for a few years and there was a waiting period for manufacturers to develop PFAS-free alternatives, which he said underwent rigorous testing. 

PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals’ were used to create a durable, water-repellent coating.

Typically, firefighting gear has three unique protective layers. There’s an outer shell, a moisture barrier in the middle and an inner, thermal layer. 

The amount of PFAS in firefighting gear varied by manufacturer, but studies showed the highest concentrations could be found on the two outermost layers.

Chief Johnson said PFAS was most prevalent in the middle layer of local gear, a major component of the moisture barrier.

The new PFAS-free protective gear is a product of the company Innotex, which has five plants in North America, and distributed by A.J Stone.  

“This marks a monumental shift towards a safer and healthier future,” said Johnson, “and reflects our unwavering dedication to prioritizing the health and safety and the well being of all staff.”

Foams used to fight fires are also PFAS-free, said Johnson.

Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker says the transition to new gear has been well received by all affected parties.

“First in Canada to actually have these in the firewalls, so we are proud to be an example of the future for departments across the country,” said Shoemaker.

A.J. Stone Northern Ontario sales rep Steve Dionne says a lot of work went into making the transition to new gear a reality.

“This has been a really exciting time for us,” said. “It was a collaborative effort both with Sault Ste. Marie Professional Firefighters Association, A. J. Stone and Innotex. There was a lot of work in the background to facilitate this.”

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