WEST, Texas – January is firefighter cancer awareness month. This month is for raising awareness to the danger firefighters face being exposed to toxins and soot when they go to fires.

“When we go out to these fires, we are exposed to the smoke and the soot and all the products of combustion to get on our gear and on our skin,” West Fire Marshal Harold Pfleiderer said. “Then those toxins are absorbed into our bodies.”

Medical researchers say smoke, chemicals, soot, and products of combustion can easily lead to cancer in firefighters.

“It can get on your skin, it can be absorbed into your bloodstream, it can go through your nose, it can be absorbed into your bloodstream,”Pfleiderer said. “Any of those toxins or anything in the environment that was not supposed to be there can be harmful to firefighters.”

But, there are some preventative measures that can be taken.

Historically, having dirty gear was a badge of honor. But, firefighters have learned that cleaning the gear can reduce the risk of cancer.

The West Fire Department recently received it’s own NFPA compliant washing machine and dryer with the help of grant money.

“Now, with having our own equipment on hand, we can clean our gear as needed instead of when budget allows for,” Pfleiderer said

Previously, they would have to send the equipment out to be cleaned to a service provider. That option was expensive and time consuming.

“It saves us a lot of money, and we can we can rotate a set of gear from being dirty to being back in service in about five hours now as opposed to five days.”

West Fire Department could only clean its gear once a year, and that costs about $4,500.

“If you’ve gone into a structure fire, your gear needs to be washed,”Pfleiderer said. “Now, instead of doing that once a year we’re able to do that after every structure fire.”

Supporting local fire departments means keeping those safe who keep the community safe.

“Some departments can’t keep their doors open,”Pfleiderer said. “Some fire departments are spending all their money just to keep fuel in their apparatus.”