We know that firefighters face danger every day from smoke, flames and dangerous chemicals.
We have learned recently that they can face danger from the very protective gear that they wear.
Certain chemical agents used to waterproof turnout jackets and pants have been linked to some types of cancer.
And now it seems politics can prove a hazard as well.
Recently, Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux won approval for $22,500 from the city council to buy a washing machine and a drying cabinet designed to clean the heavy, specialized bunker coats and pants worn by firefighters when battling a blaze.
If that seems costly for a washer-dryer combo, know that these aren’t the home washers you may have in your own basement or the kind you encounter at the laundromat.
Suffice it to say that there’s probably no little light up display asking if you want the “delicate” setting.
These machines are designed to remove carcinogenic and other dangerous materials firefighters encounter: hazardous chemicals, toxic spills and other dangerous byproducts of combustion.
The fire department wants two washers and two dryer, one set each for Union Street headquarters and the South Attleboro station, but the mayor says he will seek another appropriation in the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.
That’s set up a conflict, not just with the firefighters, but with some members of the city council as well.
Council Vice President Heather Porreca, who as it happens recently announced that she’s planning on running against Heroux this fall, says the mayor’s response falls short.
“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.”
Those are fine sentiments. However, for the last five years, the city’s capital improvement list — which guides the budget for big ticket items and long-term projects — has included a request for new equipment for cleaning firefighter gear. Nothing was done about it and it evidently wasn’t considered a high priority.
Mayor Heroux, we think, is attempting to walk a line between expending funds on a needed capital expense and maintaining fiscal responsibility.
We wonder where his critics on the council have been for the past five years.