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'People need to protect the protectors': Maine firefighters join nationwide push for PFAS-free gear

The International Association of Fire Fighters has launched a legal effort to end the use of toxic chemicals in turnout gear.

MAINE, USA — A firefighters union in Maine is joining a nationwide movement to get PFAS chemicals out of the protective clothing they wear to fight fires, also known as "turnout gear."

The International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents tens of thousands of firefighters and paramedics, including first responders in Maine, has launched a legal effort to end the use of toxic chemicals in turnout gear. 

On Monday at a conference in Las Vegas, the IAFF announced it has hired three legal teams to fight for new regulatory standards when it comes to firefighter turnout gear. 

Officials claim years of wearing equipment designed to save their lives is causing health problems among firefighters, including cancer. The turnout gear firefighters use is treated with industrial compounds to withstand very high temperatures. 

“We need to combat what is killing us. Cancer is the number one killer of firefighters, and for years, corporate interests have lied to us about the carcinogens in the protective gear designed to keep us safe. It stops now,” IAFF General President Edward A. Kelly said.

Michael Crouse is the president of the Professional Firefighters of Maine, which represents 1,400 active and retired firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, and other personnel. The organization supports the efforts by the IAFF to replace all turnout gear with PFAS-free alternatives. 

"It's a message that needs to be shouted out at the federal, state, and every level. People need to step up and protect the protectors,"  Crouse said. 

Crouse said the majority of Maine fire departments require firefighters to wash their gear after responding to a fire. The availability of PFAS-free gear depends on the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, which sets standards for turnout gear. 

The NFPA could release new regulations by the end of this year. 

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