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New Columbus Firehouse Designed To Keep First Responders Cancer-Free

Clare Roth
Mayor Andrew Ginther, second from left, breaks ground on Fire Station 35 on the Far East Side.

Columbus officials broke ground Wednesday on Fire Station 35, the first in the city designed to keep firefighters' living spaces free of carcinogens.

Fire Chief Kevin O'Connor says the $11 million station, located on the Far East Side, allows firefighters to decontaminate themselves after they return from a scene but before they enter their living spaces.

“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death for firefighters after they end their careers,” O’Connor says. “Dangerous carcinogens that we bring back from fires are gonna be left in the apparatus bay. There will be a corridor of clean.”

Ohio has recently invested more money and effort into protecting firefighters, who are diagnosed with and die from cancer at higher rates than the general population. Ohio now lists cancer as a work-related illness for fighters, and the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation in September provided $426,000 in grants for local departments to purchase safety gear, exhaust systems and washing machines.

“Fire stations are now being designed the same way we run a HAZMAT scene,” O’Connor says. “There’s a hot zone that’s contaminated. There’s a warm zone where you do your decontamination, then there’s a cool zone where you can walk around safely.”

O’Connor says fire stations were not designed this way in the past because people didn't know how crucial detoxification was for firefighters' health.

“It just didn’t exist before, and it’s expensive,” O’Connor says. “It took a major commitment from the City of Columbus and the residents to support this.”

The station, a single story building, will feature 16 bedrooms and a partial basement. O’Connor says he hopes the station will serve as an example for future buildings around the city.

O’Connor also says it will help reduce response times on the Far East Side by over 50 percent.

Officials expect the project to be completed in January 2020.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.