Vancouver firefighters to receive new PFAS-free gear in a move to combat cancer

March 12, 2024

Vancouver Fire Department initiates phase-out of PFAS-containing gear

The Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) has announced an initiative to replace firefighters’ uniforms that contain polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals.

These chemicals, commonly found in fire-resistant gear, have been associated with increased cancer rates among firefighters globally.

Karen Fry, the Chief of VFRS, expressed her enthusiasm for the change, emphasizing its importance for cancer prevention within the department.

City of Vancouver supports gear transition for firefighter safety

The City of Vancouver has authorized a one-time purchase of PFAS-free gear for about 20% of VFRS staff.

Additionally, a proposal to replace all remaining gear will be presented to the city council.

The city spokesperson stated: “The city has a strong commitment to ensure we are taking steps to mitigate the hazards faced by firefighters and other city staff on the job.”

Health impacts of PFAS in firefighting gear

PFAS, a group of over 4,700 chemicals, are used in various products including firefighting gear.

These chemicals are known for their adverse environmental and health effects.

Health Canada has identified certain types of PFAS as potentially carcinogenic, linking them to reproductive, developmental, and immunological effects.

Similarly, the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology has found that firefighting gear releases more PFAS when worn out.

Reaction from firefighters and union representatives

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 18, representing Vancouver firefighters, hailed the decision as a “landmark.” They applauded the city, mayor, and fire chief’s dedication to the health of firefighters.

Edward Kelly, IAFF general president, highlighted the urgency to address higher cancer rates among firefighters at a U.S. fire administrator’s conference.

Legislation and calls for PFAS phase-out

In response to these concerns, B.C. Greens MLA Adam Olsen recently introduced a bill mandating the phase-out of PFAS-containing equipment in fire departments across the province within five years.

This move aligns with the advocacy efforts of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C. and B.C. Professional Fire Fighters’ Association, who have been vocal about the need to eliminate occupational cancer risks associated with firefighting gear.

FSJA Comment

The Vancouver Fire Rescue Services’ decision to phase out PFAS-containing gear marks a significant moment in addressing occupational health concerns within the firefighting community.

With increasing evidence of the health impacts of PFAS, this initiative represents a proactive approach to ensuring the wellbeing of those who risk their lives for public safety.

It will be interesting to observe how this decision influences policies in other firefighting departments and the broader approach to workplace health and safety in high-risk professions.

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