AURORA | At least 220 firefighters may get a new set of bunker gear after Aurora City Council decided Monday to add an $800,000-budget request for the equipment and annual cleaning of the gear.

Councilwoman Allison Hiltz, who initiated the budget amendment, said the initial approval sends a strong message that the city supports cancer prevention efforts for firefighters. In some  departments across the country — such as Miami and Seattle — the cancer rate among firefighters can exceed 30 percent.

Council will have to give the budget supplement final approval.

Fire chief Fernando Gray said during the study session he supports the allocation, although it will take a more comprehensive plan to decrease cancer risks among firefighters in Aurora, and achieving that goal will likely take years. That plan would include cancer screenings, prevention education, adding more storage for gear potentially exposed to toxins, and possibly equipping all stations with a diesel exhaust removal system.

According to Hiltz and Gray, hardly any firefighters in Aurora have more than one set of bunker gear, which are worn on calls and absorb contaminants that can be absorbed from a fire.

“Cancer is a very real part of the fire service especially given the chemical makeup of combustibles today,” the fire department said in a presentation to a city council committee earlier this month. “The types of materials burning in fires have changed drastically over the last several years.”

During the study session Gray said a firefighter may be exposed to at least 84,000 carcinogens at a house fire.

Hiltz originally asked for enough money that would cover just the second set of gear, but city council decided to add money to allow for one year cleanings for the gear — which is not required by the department. Only four stations have cleaning stations.

The $800,000 is a one-time allocation.

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer