SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) -- Firefighters risk their lives every day to save others but they also expose themselves to health risks long after the flames are out.
Sacramento Metropolitan firefighters are taking steps to make sure they are not only prepared for the physical demands of the job but also have long, healthy careers.
"That’s one of the things that’s a focus of the fire academy. Beyond the pulling hose and climbing ladders, we have to be capable physically to do the job," Metro Fire Public Information Officer Chris Vestal explained.
But being healthy goes far beyond being physically fit.
“One of the biggest things we can do is to make sure all of our gear is clean and that we are clean," Vestal said.
Every time a firefighter enters a burning building they are exposed to potentially deadly chemicals.
The firefighters have a strict protocol they go through after every fire they respond to.
"We make sure we take showers as soon as we get back to the fire station to wash all of that bad stuff off of us," Vestal said.
It’s also the reason Metro Fire invested in their own laundry facility in Rancho Cordova.
"We’re one of the only fire departments in California that has our own contained laundry facility," Vestal explained. "The importance of that is that because we have such a high number of personnel and such a high fire load, we have to be sure that we get our turnouts back to us after a fire very quickly.”
Each year, the employees wash about 7,000 fire garments, using special machines to extract all of the harmful chemicals.
"And they keep us safe by changing out our gear, making sure it’s clean, making repairs," Vestal said.
Having a 24-hour turnaround time encourages the firefighters to send in their gear after every fire, exposing them to as few carcinogens as possible.
“All of those components really help us have, not just to stay safe but also to keep that long, thriving career," Vestal said.