Are Firefighters Being Poisoned By Their Pants (Held Up With Red Suspenders)?

Categories: Health
Fireman.JPGThe joke referenced in the headline is most definitely not funny. But you know what's even less funny? Heavy metal poisoning.

Firefighters in Boca Raton have persuaded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch an investigation to determine whether flame-retardant pants are a contributing factor to a peculiar outbreak of heavy-metal poisoning among the ranks. At least 50 Boca Raton firefighters claim they have increased levels of antimony in their bloodstreams.

The pants in question, the Flying Cross FireWear cotton model, are produced by Fechheimer Brothers. Fechheimer was the official pants supplier for the San Francisco Fire Department until last year.

Dorothy Teupel is the SFFD's materials manager, responsible for negotiating contracts for clothing and other gear and outfitting the firefighters. She's been at the department for nearly 18 years, and notes that SFFD employees wore Fechheimer pants long before she got there.

Teupel is hopeful that the SFFD has dodged a heavy metal bullet because its firefighters did not wear Fechheimer's cotton pants, but wool ones  -- and many still are wearing their Fechheimer pants, as they haven't worn out yet.

Fechheimer cotton pants of the sort being analyzed by the CDC were sold in San Francisco, however. Gall's on Cesar Chavez is the city's only authorized Fechheimer dealer. A store employee said they carried the pants through last year -- and may well have sold pairs to firefighters from Daly City or the California Department of Forestry.

The SFFD's insistence on wool uniforms may turn out to be a stroke of luck -- but not during summer. Teupel notes that the shirts are also wool. And, yes, it is company policy to wear them even on the hottest days of the year. Some firefighters might choose to run into a burning building just for the sheer sense of relief.

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