CRAIGHEAD COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - A bill that would have required every firefighter in the state to have access to an industrial washer-extractor machine to clean turnout gear failed for a second time Wednesday, this time by only one vote.
The bill, House Bill 1758, failed last week in a first vote in the Arkansas House. Supporters have said it would help with safety concerns in hazardous areas while opponents have said the requirement would have hurt smaller fire departments.
According to the bill, if a department did not comply with that, their state funding would be at risk.
The bill was reconsidered Tuesday.
State firefighter groups were vocal Wednesday about the vote.
The Arkansas State Firefighter Association was upset with that decision because they want all firefighters to have clean and safe gear.
"Demand access to clean gear," the East Central District wrote on their Facebook page. "We're going to have to fight cancer on the local level."
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, would have given each department until 2022 to buy a washer or sign a local agreement to use another department's washer in the county.
The Jonesboro Fire Department has two washer and dryers that they let other departments use.
A firefighter explained that it's important to their health for them to keep the gear clean.
"Different things that make up furniture, different plastics, different materials that compose the things that are burning in the fires, the gasses and harmful stuff that gets released from those while they're burning get all over our clothes," Judd Alsup with the Jonesboro Fire Department said. "So if we continue to wear those contaminated clothes, over time it would cause major problems to our health, most notably cancer."
Philadelphia Fire Chief Curtis Miller said his department has access to Jonesboro's equipment to wash their turnouts.
However, Miller said he thinks other rural fire departments would actually be glad the bill did not pass. That is because they can keep their state funding without securing access to an industrial washer.
He said they can cost up to several thousand dollars.
Alsup said he hopes all firefighters can get their gear properly washed, and they are happy to offer their washer to them.
"They're going into the same type of fires, the same types of houses," Alsup said. "That doesn't discriminate between volunteer or paid or county or whatever you are. So, it's important that everyone has access to the same quality of clean gear and so we're happy to provide that."
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