New protection for Palm Beach County firefighters

New masks for firefighters. (WPEC)

Officials with Palm Beach County Fire and Rescue are now bringing a new purpose to a piece of equipment that’s never been used before in the fire industry.

They’re specialized half masks, commonly used by painters and hazmat crews.

Starting Tuesday, every Palm Beach County firefighter will be equipped with one, making the department the first in the nation to use it in this capacity.

Chief Bob Kropa says when firefighters are inside a structure fire, they’re fully protected from toxic smoke but that’s not the case when they’re nearby in the so-called “warm zone.”

“It has been proven that toxic gases and cancer causing agents are leaving the structure and they’re coming upwards of up to 100 feet away from the structure and we had no protection against that,” Chief Kropa said. “That’s where the half mask comes in.”

In addition, they’ve also supplied all safety officers with 5-gas atmospheric hand-held monitors.

“That will tell us when something is in the air,” said firefighter Michael Mckeehan. “The VOCs are actually odorless so this will let us know, ‘Hey, you need to put your respiratory protection on.’”

Kropa says both tools will also be a huge help when it comes to battling brush fires.

“These masks filter out 100 percent of the particulates that are created by the smoke of the brush fires which is very harmful to the respiratory track,” he said. “One hundred percent of that will be filtered out as well as any gasses from insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers.”

The chief says it cost around $42,000 to equip all 1,400 firefighters with the new gear.