Fighting fires can be a dangerous job, with blistering flames, searing heat and suffocating smoke all conspiring against the health and safety of the more than one million career and volunteer firefighters in the United States.
When the air clears and the visible dangers die down after a five-alarm fire, most people think a cold drink, a hot shower and a warm bed are all one needs to reset for the next call.
But dangerous toxins from burning building materials still lurk beneath the surface of the firefighters' skin, completely impervious to soap, water and scrubbing. Getting those contaminants out, some believe, will reduce the elevated cancer risk these men and women face.
That was Derek Fye's thinking when he set out to add a sauna to the equipment arsenal at his firehouse in Ottumwa, Iowa. Inspired by a similar story at a station in Indianapolis, he was able to raise $10,000 to buy a SaunaRay far-infrared model with two stationary bikes thanks to the support of the public and local businesses. He and his fellow firefighters appreciate the generosity, and believe it could even save lives.
"People think the most dangerous part of the job is being exposed to fire and heat, but we know it's smoke," Fye told the Ottumwa Courier. "In building construction now, almost everything is made of plastics, foams and coating which, when burned, produce carcinogens."
While some may question the science behind claims one can sweat out those carcinogens, there's no arguing the fact that time spent in a sauna feels really good — and it comes with an important added benefit, according to Fye.
"After a structure fire, we can shower five to six times and still have the smell of strong smoke on our skin and in our hair," he says. "With this sauna, the smell is eliminated."