Firehouses in Boston will receive new industrial-grade washer and dryer systems to combat occupational cancer thanks to a large donation from the Gary Sinise Foundation, a California-based charity that provides funding for programs and services for veterans and first responders across the country.
The donation to the Boston Firefighters Burn Foundation, totaling $388,137, covered the cost of purchasing and installing 10 washing machines and 32 drying cabinets for firehouses around the city, according to Phillip Skrabut, treasurer of the Boston Firefighters Burn Foundation.
Prior to the installation of the equipment, which cleans firefighter bunker gear in under an hour, firefighters would remove their gear following a call for a cleaning company to pick up.
“Washing the gear serves two purposes. First, it gets dirt and soot off the gear, which wears down material and can cause the outer shell to rip and tear,” said Skrabut, a firefighter at the Meeting House Hill station in Dorchester, in a phone interview. “That can cause a burn injury to the firefighter. The other is to get toxins and carcinogens out of gear, which soaks through the gear and into our skin.”
Twenty-seven firefighters under the age of 70 died from cancer between 2012 and 2017, according to the Boston Relief Fund.
When the cleaning companies pick up the gear, firefighters must use their spare suit for calls until their gear is returned, Skrabut said. The slow turnaround leads to firefighters often reusing dirty suits and exposing themselves to harmful chemicals.
“It’s huge,” Skrabut said of the importance of the new washer and dryer systems. “When you come back from a fire, you break down the gear into its inner shell and outer shell and put gear in the washer.”
Instead of waiting days for clean equipment, the suits are ready for use within an hour. Several suits can be washed at the same time, Skrabut said.
Every firehouse in the city, except for the Marine Unit and a station that is too small for the cleaning system, will have a washer and dryer installed, he said. The purchase and installation of the equipment costs $23,000 per firehouse.
“[The donation] has built on a relationship between the Boston Fire Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation, which has already benefited the fire department in other ways,” Skrabut said.
During the first months of the pandemic, the Sinise Foundation also covered expenses, totaling over $20,000, for sanitation spray bottles for each fire department in the city, Skrabut said.
Sinise is an actor and philanthropist who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in 1994 for his role as Lieutenant Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump.”