Evansville Fire fights cancer with new hoses

Local News

Evansville firefighters have a new piece of equipment hanging around their stations. It won’t put out a fire, but it may keep firefighters out of a hospital.

The problem they face has existed since the dawn of the diesel engine. As powerful as it is for fighting fires, the truck can be dangerous for people who work around the big red machines.

Firefighters use plenty of tools to help the public, like axes, ladders, lights, and of course hoses. Now the Evansville Fire Department has a few new hoses in the 14 stations across the city – only these won’t hold water.

Yellow tubes catch diesel exhaust from idling engines and filters it out of the fire house. Hoses attach with a magnet directly to the exhaust pipe and only break away as trucks pulls out of the station.

The simple concept has a lot of engineering behind it, and it’ll help reduce cancer risk; protecting the men and women who protect and serve.

The technology cost more than $400,000 to install in all of Evansville’s fire stations. Ninety percent was paid through a federal grant and the rest came from the city.

Chief Mike Connelly says the grant process for this system is competitive. Fire departments across the country are all looking to install this technology.

Before the hoses, diesel exhaust fumed out from the trucks into the garage, into living areas, and into lungs of firefighters. Every day they could be exposed to diesel exhaust for a significant portion of their shifts.

“In 5 or 6 years we’ve probably had 6 or 8 different firefighters that have been diagnosed with cancer,” says Capt. Kirk Kuhnel at Fire Station No. 1 near downtown Evansville.

It’s not always smoke, fire, and debris firefighters must watch out for. Research shows firefighters are 2.2-times more likely to get cancer than anyone else, so every little thing goes a long way to save them, so they can save you.

“We have had several firefighters who have passed away from cancer who’ve retired from the job, we have active duty firefighters who have cancer,” Connelly says.

EFD cites an association between lung cancer and occupational exposure to diesel exhaust emissions. In addition to its effect on the lungs, mucous membranes, and potential for causing cancer, diesel exhaust may also be associated with heart disease.

Kuhnel says it’s a small improvement that can make a major difference. “Some things you can’t eliminate but if there’s certain things we can at least help with, I’m all for it.”

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(This story was originally published May 30, 2018)

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