By Kelly Werthmann

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– Before every call, firefighters suit up in their protective gear. They’re worn to scene after scene, keeping them safe in dangerous situations.

“There’s a chance in the same 24-hour shift we could go on two structure fires,” Travis Pulliam, firefighter with Aurora Fire Rescue, said.

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(credit: CBS)

Yet even after the fire is out, firefighters are still at risk. Their gear is covered in toxic soot.

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“They absorb into the gear and when you’re hot that also increases the absorption into your skin and puts you at risk for cancer,” Cindy Andersen, Aurora Fire’s Deputy Chief of Professional Development, told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann. “Firefighters have a higher level and risk of getting cancer than the general population.”

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Cindy Andersen (credit: CBS)

In an effort to minimize exposure to cancer-causing contaminants, Aurora Fire is purchasing its crews a second set of bunker gear. The move comes after Aurora City Council approved spending $800,000 on the additional gear.

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“This way you put on a fresh set of gear that’s clean and ready to roll,” Andersen explained. “We want our members to not only go home safe from a fire, but go home safe and healthy at the end of their career.”

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Getting a second set of gear is part of a great goal Aurora Fire has to keep their crews safe. Another step is installing enclosed storage to protect their gear.

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Travis Pulliam (credit: CBS)

“It can stay in a separate room and not be exposed in that way as well,” Pulliam said.

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Fire agencies across Colorado are taking similar steps. CBS4 has covered this issue extensively, like earlier this year when North Metro Fire Rescue began putting decontamination buckets on their rigs. Each has tools for cleaning gear and preventing cross contamination at scenes.

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It may seem like a simple step, but it’s one with an important purpose and great meaning for firefighters like Troy Jackson who is battling cancer.

“Probably even harder than that was sitting down and telling my kids that I had cancer,” Jackson told CBS4 in February.

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Troy Jackson (credit: CBS)

North Metro Fire Rescue’s Mike Dawson knows that pain all too well. He spoke with CBS4 in November last year about his cancer diagnosis.

“I remember my wife would hold her hand on my chest to make sure I was still breathing,” Dawson said through tears.

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“When one of your friends or partners comes down with cancer, it’s scary,” Pulliam said. “Not only because you’re concerned for them and their families, but then it makes it more of a realization that any of could be next.”

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All the more reason why Aurora firefighters like Pulliam are happy their agency is doing more to protect their crews from cancer.

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“They’re definitely headed in the right direction,” he said.

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Aurora Fire is in the process of purchasing 270 sets of gear to be distributed to firefighters and fire academies. The $800,000 will also help cover the costs of sending gear to professional cleaners and inspections at least twice a year, which Andersen explained is the industry’s recommended standard.

Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team as the morning reporter in 2012. After serving as weekend morning anchor, Kelly is now Covering Colorado First for CBS4 News at 10. Connect with Kelly on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @KellyCBS4.

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