Firefighters in three cities begin to transition to PFAS-free gear

May 17, 2024

San Francisco phases out PFAS in firefighter gear

San Francisco is the latest city to begin phasing out firefighter gear containing PFAS.

This decision follows a unanimous vote by the Board of Supervisors on an ordinance mandating that all personal protective equipment must be PFAS-free by June 30, 2026.

The push for this change was led by Local 798 and the San Francisco Firefighter Cancer Prevention Foundation (SFFCPF) after a joint advisory from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association highlighted the cancer risks associated with PFAS.

IAFF General President Edward Kelly emphasized the importance of this transition: “Eliminating cancer from the fire service starts with removing this toxic bunker gear from use.”

Funding and progress in San Francisco

San Francisco has allocated nearly $2 million in its budget and received a $2.3 million FEMA grant to fund the new PFAS-free gear.

Local 798 has been actively participating in field test surveys of new products featuring non-fluorinated moisture barriers and PFAS-free repellent outer shell coatings.

Adam Wood, Local 798 secretary and SFFCPF Vice President, said: “The Board of Supervisors immediately understood that replacing both sets of gear was the right thing to do.”

The total cost for this transition is expected to exceed $10 million.

However, the city is making progress towards fully funding the change.

Vancouver and Concord join the transition

Vancouver, British Columbia, and Concord, New Hampshire, are also transitioning to PFAS-free gear.

Vancouver aims to be the first North American city to fully switch to the safer gear.

Local 18 President Katrina Davison expressed optimism: “Now, I’m pleased to report that we are expecting delivery of the first batch of gear before June.”

In Concord, the city council has approved the purchase of 92 sets of PFAS-free turnout gear.

Local 1045 President Justin Kantar highlighted the benefits: “To be able to take something out that’s in our gear currently and remove it, so … we’re not constantly absorbing it in these high areas where we know that we’re absorbing carcinogens currently – huge win.”

Legal actions and ongoing efforts

The IAFF has engaged three national tort law firms to support its efforts to eliminate occupational cancer and remove PFAS from firefighter gear.

In March 2023, the IAFF filed a lawsuit against the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for imposing a testing standard that requires the use of PFAS in protective gear.

This case is advancing in Massachusetts Superior Court.

FSJA Comment

The transition to PFAS-free firefighter gear marks a significant step towards reducing the health risks faced by firefighters due to toxic chemicals.

The collaborative efforts of Local 798 and the San Francisco Firefighter Cancer Prevention Foundation have set a precedent for other municipalities.

By securing substantial funding and participating in product testing, San Francisco is taking proactive measures to safeguard its firefighters.

Vancouver and Concord’s initiatives further demonstrate a growing recognition of the importance of this issue.

The support from local governments and the IAFF’s legal actions underscore a broader commitment to addressing occupational health hazards in the fire service.

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