East Hartford Fire Department Issues Second Hood and Wash-Your-Hood-Sunday Program

The recent installation of a washing machine and dryer at each fire station enables the department to improve our efforts to keep you well and safe. As you are well aware, recent studies have begun to quantify the effects of dirty personal protective clothing and its role in the increased likelihood of contracting cancer. Effective today:

1. All personnel will be issued a second hood. They are available from Assistant Chief McCarthy and should be picked up the next time you are at HQ.
2. Each Sunday (when on duty), members shall launder one of their issued hoods. You should rotate between each hood to ensure an even number of wash cycles.

If you doubt the connection between a clean hood and its impact on your health, read the following memo from PDO Lockwood.

I appreciate the efforts of AC McCarthy, the Health & Safety Committee, Local 1548 Leadership, and PDO Sopelak in seeing this project to fruition.

John H. Oates
Fire Chief
East Hartford Fire Department

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am writing to you related to the “Wash-Your-Hood-Sunday” program. This program promotes what should be common sense. This simple act of washing your hood can have a significant impact on you and your families’ lives. So, now is when you wonder…..why is this letter coming from Bruce? On January 13, 2013, I sat with my wife as the doctor told me I had thyroid cancer. I can tell you everything about that moment, as time stopped; the smells in the room, the look on my wife’s face, everything. As that day everything changed for my family. Now, it’s here I will tell you that I was told “you’re very lucky. If there is a cancer to have, it’s thyroid cancer.” Really!?!? What they meant in translation was that it was very treatable, with low impact, and a very high success rate. Throughout that year, I had surgery, radio-active iodine treatments and was given a clean bill of health after my scan in November 2013. Every day, as a result, I take three pills when I wake, two pills at lunch, one pill at dinner, and one before bed.

For those that don’t know, my wife works on the Oncology floor at UCONN Health Center. In April 2014, she came home and handed me my invitation to “Cancer Survivors Day.” I felt very guilty. In my opinion I had not suffered, as most do with cancer, major surgeries, chemo and radiation treatments. Remember, I had the “good” cancer. It was during this time that I found I was not alone. Just in the greater Hartford area there is a cluster of firefighters with the same cancer in very short period of time. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Fast forward to February 2015. After my routine annual scan, my doctor called to say “I am sorry but it appears that your cancer is back, and it appears that it has moved to your lymph nodes.” One more time, remember I am lucky, I have the “good cancer.” The path was less clear this time. My treatment plans involved both UCONN and Yale exploring possible options. In September it was decided that the only real option, was the one with the greatest risk. On October 28, I was again admitted to UCONN for another high dose radio-active iodine treatment. I will need to wait about a year to determine if this treatment worked. I will need constant lab work going forward, because the greatest risk was that this treatment may have damaged my bone marrow, resulting in leukemia.

I asked if I could write this, because this is personal to me. I am hoping that my story makes it personal to you. I can’t go back and wash my gear or my hood. I can’t take away the stress my family has experienced. I can’t ever go a day without wondering what’s next. While our job brings with it inherent dangers, we need to be proactive, reducing our risk whenever possible.

The department recently purchased each of us a second hood, and washing machines have been installed at each station. Thank you for taking the time to read my letter. I hope this encourages you to use the tools/equipment provided to better take care of yourself, and your family.