Saint John area fire department home to New Brunswick’s first chemical detox unit

WATCH ABOVE: The Kennebecasis Valley Fire Department is home to New Brunswick's first chemical detoxification unit for use after firefighters return from scenes containing dangerous toxins. As Andrew Cromwell reports, it's hoped this is the first of many around the province.

The Kennebecasis Valley Fire Department has landed the first chemical detoxification unit of its kind in New Brunswick.

In what looks like a sauna from the outside, firefighters go through 20 minutes of moderate cycling in temperatures reaching 40 C in hopes of secreting the bad toxins they may encounter when battling a blaze. Firefighters wear lots of protection when they battle a blaze, but it’s not enough, said fire chief Bill Ireland.

“A modern residential structure fire contains over 800 chemicals today and that gets absorbed through their skin despite the protective equipment they’re using,” Ireland said.

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Funding is currently being sought so it can be determined how well these units work. Dr. Anil Adidesh is the J.D. Irving Limited research chair in occupational medicine at Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick in Saint John.

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He said the new detoxification unit could also help them identify how efficient the unit is.

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“We could undertake analyses of substances eliminated in the sweat and in the urine to look at the efficiency of the unit in eliminating those (toxins), which will give some indication how beneficial it may be in the future,” Adidesh explained.

Everyone takes in and gets rid of toxins each day, but Adidesh says with firefighting it’s different.

“The concern is that in firefighters there may be exposures to substances in fire smoke that may give it an increased risk for cancer,” he said.

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Thirty-year veteran Captain Jim LeBlanc got the ball rolling on this project.

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“In our department over the last 20 years, I’ve counted, I think it’s 10 firefighters that have developed cancer and some have passed away from the cancer,” he said.

The local firefighters association wants to emphasize that the dirtiest fire fighter no longer carries with it a badge of honour.

“Decontaminating our gear — we want that to be something that becomes second nature to our members,” said Captain John Codling, vice president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 3591. “Our new recruits that come in this one of the first things that we stress to them now is that the dirty gear is not cool any more.”

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Each detox unit costs about $10,000.