Lt. Jessica Duron-Martinez and Capt. Ryan Floersheim of Rio Rancho Fire Rescue demonstrate the special dryer purchased with an $11,000 grant from Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation at a press conference on Friday.
Photo by Amy Byres / Rio Rancho Observer

Rio Rancho Fire Rescue can help wash and dry away cancer with an $11,000 grant from the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.

Bunker gear worn by firefighters can absorb carcinogens, increasing their chances of cancer, according to Firefighter Cancer Alliance and the National Fire Protection Association.

With the help of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, RRFR was able to secure enough money for a washing machine and special dryer to ensure harmful chemicals are cleaned out of bunker gear, said Lt. Jessica Duron-Martinez from RRFR.

“I know that a lot of people in different departments have been looking at how we can take preventative measures to make sure we limit the toxic things in fires being on our gear and going into our skin, and so being a part of the fire department for 17 years, I think it’s great that we’re continually thinking about ways that we can protect our firefighters,” Duron-Martinez said.

As part of the RRFR health and wellness program, firefighters get an annual medical evaluation to detect cancer, a gear-exchange program, special cleaning cloths and buckets of soapy water to use on a scene, an annual inspection of bunker gear and, eventually, new procedures to reduce time spent in bunker gear, she said.

The department has been sending gear out to be professionally cleaned and then alternating to a second set of gear, Duron-Martinez said. The department also used a washer from 1998 that is equipped to handle the material bunker gear is made of, said Capt. Ryan Floersheim of RRFR.

“Our old machine didn’t meet the standards that we’re held to,” Floersheim said. “So that is what kind of led us on to our search for a new washer and dryer.”

The latest bunker gear the department uses can’t be dried by a normal drier because it voids the warranty, he said. On average, it takes about three to four days to air-dry, sometimes forcing firefighters to use damp gear.

Floersheim took it upon himself to secure money for a new washer and dryer by applying for a grant from the foundation.

To submit a grant to the foundation, Floersheim needed a sponsor from Fire House Subs. Franchisee Lucas Conner was more than happy to be that sponsor, he said.

“This makes me feel proud to represent Fire House Subs and happy for the community and happy for the firemen to know that they have the right equipment so they can serve the community better,” Conner said.

After Floersheim wrote and submitted the grant three times, the foundation accepted.

“It was continually getting denied, and it became our mission to come up with a plan to help prove our need. So, what we discovered in our department was that it was truly a health issue that we needed to fix,” he said.

Floersheim has a degree in Communications and Journalism from the University of New Mexico. When he joined the fire department, he vowed to use his skills in writing to secure funding.

With Florsheim’s writing, Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has provided two grants to RRFR.

“Journalism is a useful skill, wherever you end up,” he said

Floersheim recently summited a grant for an automatic CPR machine and is working on more, he said.