In upstate New York, this laundry service will save lives

Special extractor, drying cabinet will remove carcinogens from firefighters’ bunker gear

Cancer, not flames, may be the firefighter’s greatest enemy.

Because over the past decade, research suggests that carcinogens are not only touched and inhaled, but worn.

“At one time, wearing a sooty, dirty helmet might have been considered the cool thing to do, almost like a battle scar,” says Mark Sadkowski, deputy fire chief with the Grand Island Fire Company of Grand Island, New York. “But now we’re hearing studies saying that firefighters are getting various forms of cancer, because they’re constantly wearing bunker gear that’s contaminated with carcinogens.

“And in the volunteer service, most of our firefighters carry their dirty gear in their car with them,” he says. “All these vapors are coming off their gear after they go into a structure fire, and they’re driving around breathing them in.”

The evidence is convincing enough for the Grand Island Fire Company—an all-volunteer brigade with more than 50 active members—to make the purchase of a bunker gear extractor and drying cabinet the department’s most urgent priority.

Effectively, the equipment is a much more powerful version of a commercial-grade washer and dryer—with the cabinet drying bunker coats and pants with a blast of hot air, rather than tumble-drying, and the extractor reaching a higher centrifugal G-force to draw contaminated water out of the clothing.


“It’s light-years from a residential front-loading washer. It spins so fast that it needs to be bolted to a substantial concrete floor, and there’s some extra plumbing and electrical work needed to install these units,” says Sadkowski.

Safety is at the heart of everything we do at Enbridge. Through our Safe Community program, established in 2002, we award grants to local first-response emergency services, including firefighters and rescue services. Funds are used to buy safety equipment, obtain professional training, or deliver educational programs to help save lives and keep Enbridge’s right-of-way communities safe.

Since its inception, Safe Community has invested about $10.7 million in emergency responder organizations across North America.

And this week, as Fire Prevention Week ramps up and thousands of Grand Island residents visit the fire station for its annual open house, we’ll be presenting an $8,000 check to the Grand Island Fire Company to fund about half of its new extractor and drying cabinet, expected to be operational in November.

Volunteers with the Grand Island Fire Company respond to about 1,600 calls a year—and given the island’s location just upstream of Niagara Falls on the U.S.-Canada border, those calls include everything from fire suppression to advanced life support emergency medical services to vehicle extrication to marine, ice and all-terrain rescue.

“We’re a full-service department. We’re one of the busier departments in Erie County, and we’ve got active members who have 40 years of service and are still going to fire calls,” says Sadkowski.