by George Warren

NEVADA COUNTY (CBS13) — When firefighters in the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District return from a call and head into what looks like a sauna to ride a stationary bike, they’re not going in there to relax.

We all know the obvious hazards facing firefighters including smoke, flame, structural collapse. But there’s another one which Capt. Patrick Sullivan calls the silent killer.

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“I think cancer in general, science is finally catching up with firefighters and firefighting,” he said.

Sullivan says a national firefighters memorial in Colorado Springs tells the stunning story: 65 percent of the names on the wall in the last two decades are from cancer-related deaths.

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Smoke from structure fires is laced with toxins from burning furniture, carpeting and manufactured building materials. Science has shown that even smoke from a wildland fire, once thought to be benign, can also contain carcinogens.

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“The structure collapses are what you see on the news. It’s the day-to-day exposure cancers that you don’t see,” Sullivan said.

Nevada County Consolidated Fire just bought two of the decontamination units from SaunaRay in Ontario, Canada for a discounted total of $10,000. They get no warmer than 104 degrees, roughly 40 degrees cooler than a true sauna, to prevent a significant rise in the body’s core temperature because the firefighters remain on duty and can be called out again at any moment.

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During the standard 15-minute session, firefighters remove their sweat with special wipes. Corey Jacobsen says he can feel his body sweating out smoke from a fire that he used to carry for days.

“It’s like this odor you smell it and it sticks with you for about a week,” Jacobsen said.

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Sullivan said other departments are using decontamination units, but he’s unaware of any other departments using them in the Sacramento region.