FIREFIGHTERS are calling for more protection after research revealed they were being exposed to dangerously high levels of harmful chemicals.

A study has shown that firefighters are twice as likely to die from cancer as the general population as they are being exposed to toxins on their clothes and equipment which contain carcinogens.

Stuart Elliott, crew manager at Teesside Airport, said there is not always time to carry out the full decontamination process and harmful carcinogens can be passed from one place to another.

Mr Elliott said: “All of the carbon off the fuel, the rub off the tyres gets impregnated in to our kit so we’ve got to give ourselves a wipe-over until we get back to the station where we can do a deep clean on our kit in an industrial washer.

“However, sometimes we might get another call and then we haven’t got the luxury of getting the full decontamination of the kit and we’re going out on another incident.”

Helmets in particular have been found to contain the highest concentration of carcinogens, especially when gloves are stored in them.

Mr Elliott said: “Ideally we’d like another change of kit that we could have, we could disrobe out of, get in to our new kit just in case we get another incident and this could get bagged up.

“But the best we can do is give ourselves a wipe off, disrobe as best we can and go back to station. But the impregnated fire kit is still on the appliance. We’ve got what we’ve got.”

Chris Moore, a firefighter in South Shields, has been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and believes he got cancer because of the job.

He said: “I joined the fire service primarily to save lives. I didn’t join to put my own life at risk. I never thought for one minute that’s what I’d be doing and I’d risk getting a life changing disease like this.

“Fire gloves get covered in dirt and muck and smoke and soot and toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, and we store them in our helmets.

“So when we go out to the next incident you take your gloves out of your helmet and you stick the helmet on your head. I’ve done that for 25 years. It’s no surprise that I’ve now got a cancer of my blood system. I firmly believe it’s been caused by my job.”

There are toxins and carcinogens in all fires, from a family BBQ at home to a blazing wall of fire in a house.

Scientists believe there are 16 major compounds in carcinogens where the toxic concentration may lead to cancer.

The research was shared exclusively with BBC Inside Out and the programme will be aired tonight.

Professor Anna Stec, fire chemistry and toxicity expert at the University of Central Lancashire, is looking at the harmful toxins that firefighters are exposed to.

She said: “In my opinion, there is a direct link between a firefighter’s occupation and cancer.

“Firefighters are twice as likely to die when compared to the general population, and they’re dying from not one type of cancer, but they’ve got multiple types.”

“If you take firefighters in their clothing, in a hot environment, they start sweating, they start dehydrating, body temperature increases, and dermal intake or absorption via the skin is automatically increasing.

“It’s kind of working like a sponge for all the fire toxins.

“So we’re looking at the type of clothing. We will heat it up, we will see if there are any contaminants within the deeper layers of the clothing, to see what effect and what danger and risk they will bring to firefighters.”

Firefighters take responsibility for cleaning their kit after attending a fire, but there’s no national directive or standard in the UK telling firefighters how their kit should be cleaned.

It is down to individual brigades to decide that for themselves.

The UK’s Chief Fire Officer, Chris Davies, is the lead for Health and Safety at the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).

He said: “There is a lot of scientific and medical information out there, but all of it, that I’m aware of, states that you can’t prove or disprove a link to cancer.

“What I do acknowledge is firefighters are contracting certain types of cancer above the population norm, I accept that and that is a concern.

“It does sound frustratingly slow, I will acknowledge that, but the assurances that I want to give is there is an incredible amount of work going on in the background to make this happen as quickly as possible. But, I do acknowledge that that’s not quick enough for some people.”

BBC Inside Out in the North East and Cumbria starts at 7.30pm on BBC One.

The programme will also be available to watch on the BBC iPlayer