WORTHINGTON — The Worthington Fire Department has received a grant from the State Fire Marshal Division of the Minnesota Department of Safety to help purchase a dryer for firefighters' turn-out gear.

The grant offers $4,825.50 and comes with a local match of $1,608.50.

WFD Chief Jason Larsen explained that a dryer will make a big difference for the department. Currently, WFD has a specialized washer that's gentle on equipment. Turn-out gear cannot go in a traditional tumble dryer, which would ruin the fabric, so when firefighters wash their gear, they simply drape it over racks to air dry. This can take one or two days.

"The problem is, now my firefighter is without gear," Larsen said.

Were there a fire call while the gear is drying, the firefighter would have only two options — either wear damp gear or not go to the fire. Neither is ideal. By wearing damp gear, the firefighter would risk steam burns from the water being heated by fire.

The new dryer will significantly decrease this risk by dropping drying time to a couple of hours. It will look like a cabinet containing a fan system that dries gear by circulating heated air around it.

Larsen noted that cleaning turn-out gear is an essential step in decreasing the risk of cancer among firefighters. Wearing soot-covered gear can be dangerous because moving around knocks dust loose, and the firefighter inhales the carcinogens from the soot particles. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has found that nationwide, firefighters face a 9% higher risk of cancer diagnosis and 14% higher risk of cancer-related death than the average American.

"NFPA (National Fire Prevention Association) standards are changing, trying to help people be healthier," he said. National efforts to protect firefighters have been strengthening since 9/11, when 343 firefighters were killed on duty.

In addition to washing turn-out gear as needed, Larsen said WFD firefighters also use special wipes on their hands, faces and necks when they return from fires. Acquiring the new gear dryer is the next step toward keeping local firefighters a little more safe.

Purchase and installation of the new dryer will happen sometime between now and June 2020.