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April 15, 2024, 9:23 am

Vancouver Leads Industry in Protecting Firefighters with New PFAS-free gear

City of Vancouver
VANCOUVER –  City firefighters will face reduced risk of cancer as Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) becomes the first fire department in North America to transition to turnout gear free from Per-and-Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS).
On April 9, 2024, Vancouver City Council approved a one-time VFRS 2024 budget increase of $2.8 million to procure PFAS-free bunker gear to ensure all personnel are covered for the remainder of 2024.

“The City is proud to be the North American leader in creating a safer workplace for Vancouver’s firefighters,” said Ken Sim, Mayor of Vancouver. “In approving the transition to PFAS-free gear, we provide greater protection to those who put their lives on the line daily for Vancouverites. It is the least we can do for our hardworking team members."

Commonly known as “forever chemicals”, PFAS are found in the water-repellent inner liner of structural firefighting turnout gear. Firefighters are exposed through daily skin contact with this moisture barrier, which is intensified during periods of extreme heat and high physical exertion. 

Just under a quarter of all occupational claims within VFRS are linked to cancer, or cancer-related illnesses, with 34 members having died from work-related cancers since 2017.

“Firefighter occupational cancer is currently the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in the Canadian fire service. We need to change that,” said Karen Fry, Fire Chief and General Manager of Vancouver Fire Rescue Services. “We are proud to be leading the way as the first fire service in North America to provide PFAS-free gear and will continue to seek new innovations to support the health and safety of our crews.”

Using existing budgets, a partial order of 220 units of new bunker gear has already been placed to supply around a quarter of the VFRS workforce, with delivery expected by the end of the year.

Quick facts:
  • Occupational cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters, with the World Health Organization classifying their exposure as a top-level carcinogen.
  • In 2023, 72 per cent of firefighter deaths in the International Association of Fire Fighters were due to occupational cancer, and in Canada, this figure was nearly 94 per cent.
  • 20 per cent of all VFRS are for presumptive cancers, with 34 members having died from work-related cancer in the last seven years.

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