CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — January is Firefighter Cancer Prevention Month and New York State is providing training and decontamination kits to fire departments across the state.

Cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York State is creating new safety measures with the hopes of reducing the risk and saving lives.

“Whether it’s a training fire or a structure fire, our gear is contaminated with carcinogens that cause cancer in firefighters,” Tim Graves, fire protection specialist with New York State Fire, said. “Cancer doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not one exposure and then all of the sudden you have cancer. This is something we see later on after many, many years.”

The state is handing out simple decontamination kits complete with a small garden hose, a scrub brush, dish soap, and more. By handing out these tools, the Office of Fire Prevention and Control hopes to decrease exposure to toxic chemicals and risk for deadly diseases.

Officials say the process is simple. Firefighters will exit a fire scene and be rinsed off in their gear. Then, they will be scrubbed with dish soap and water to remove soot and other particles. Firefighters will be rinsed again before removing their gear and putting it in a garbage bag to transport back to the station. The gear is washed further to be put back into service. This removes 85 percent of the contaminants, according to the state.

“The things that are in our homes are changing that in the past used to be natural products, cotton or wood based. Increasingly they’re now being replaced with plastics and synthetic materials. When those products burn, they’re chemicals and they give off more chemicals in smoke,” James Cable, NYS Fire Administrator, said.

The state held a training session Wednesday night at the Erie County Fire Training Academy in Cheektowaga with the goal of educating departments about this hidden risk and providing them with simple decontamination kits.

“We’re seeing an increase of firefighter cancer. That’s why we are here giving this education to the fire service. To educate them on this hazard because sometimes it isn’t as clear as a motor vehicle accident or a building collapse,” Graves concluded.

New York State Fire says it will provide these training sessions and kits to every department across the state. Officials plan to travel to every region to raise awareness about this deadly hazard.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.