ATTLEBORO — Mayor Paul Heroux asked for and got $22,500 from the city council to buy gear cleaning equipment for the fire department on April 2, but some councilors want him to double the order and double it now.
The appropriation will pay for one washing machine and a drying cabinet designed to clean the special jackets and pants worn by firefighters when battling a blaze.
The machines remove carcinogenic chemicals and other dangerous materials firefighters encounter.
Fire Chief Scott Lachance requested two washers and two driers, one set each for Union Street headquarters and the South Attleboro station, but Heroux authorized only one — for now.
In his request for the $22,500 sent to the council last month, the mayor said he will seek another appropriation in the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.
That was not good enough for some councilors, including vice-president Heather Porreca, who’s one of two councilors mulling a run for the corner office.
“This is one of those areas where I think the health and well being of individuals who sacrifice for us should be the top priority,” she said, noting that a firefighter recently retired due to a cancer diagnosis.
“When we have individuals that are retiring or falling ill with occupational cancer and we’re not even providing them with the equipment to prevent that, it’s terrible in my opinion. I would love to have an appropriation come for that to the council long before we approve the budget.”
Studies have shown that firefighters are two-and-a-half times more likely to contract cancer than the general population.
Councilor Jay DiLisio also pushed for immediate action.
“I’m going to be a little more blunt to the mayor,” he said. “I’d really appreciate an appropriation in two weeks for the second washer.”
Others pushing for a second appropriation were Peter Blais, Richard Conti and Ty Waterman.
But Heroux said he and Lachance have been working on a plan to get the equipment as soon as possible.
“This is an issue that I’ve been working on for a while,” the mayor said in an email to The Sun Chronicle. “The fire chief and I have had a plan in place to get the appropriate fire equipment in question weeks prior to (the) council meeting on Tuesday night. If any council member had contacted me before or after Tuesday night’s council meeting, they would (have found) out the details of that plan.”
Councilors also pushed for a second set of turnout gear for each firefighter.
That process is also under way, Lachance said.
Two sets are needed in case a second fire breaks out while the first set is being cleaned.
Lachance said the procurement of more turnout gear has been under way since the last administration and has been continued in the Heroux administration. Every year there’s an appropriation to buy more, he said.
Out of 100 firefighters, 36 need a second set of gear, Lachance said.
The chief said he’s confident the washer and dryer, as well as the turnout gear, which have all been on the capital improvements list for years, will be acquired.
“(The mayor) has recognized the need for the equipment and I’m certain he will provide the equipment,” Lachance said. “He’s been very supportive.”
The turnout gear is classified as an “urgent” need in the city’s current capital improvements book, while the washers and driers are classified as a category 1 need — one step down from urgent.