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Polk County invests $68 million on new fire stations that protect from cancer

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Posted at 6:53 PM, Nov 10, 2021

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Polk County is investing millions of dollars on new fire stations to reduce the risk of firefighters getting cancer.

The new Kathleen fire station opened in October.

Unlike older fire stations, this one is designed to separate firefighters from the carcinogens they work around.

“That serial exposure to those carcinogens is what is causing the firefighters trouble throughout their careers and into retirement,” said Polk County Fire Rescue Chief Robert Weech.

The new station is divided into red, yellow and green zones.

“The living quarter is actually a green area where the rule is no contaminants. No dirty gear, none of that stuff needs to enter that area,” Weech explained.

The weight room is a brand-new addition also in the green zone. Firehouses didn’t have one before now. They worked out in the bay with cancer-causing diesel fumes.

“We used to exercise in bays. We used to store our gears in bays. The carcinogens from the diesel exhaust was also a concern,” said Weech.

The average firefighter spends 33% of their lives at the firehouse. It means the world to firefighters like Tom Konze, the efforts being made to protect him and his colleagues from cancer.

“I can't thank them enough, my family can't thank them enough. Something so minor as a washer machine. It seems minor to some people but to us it’s a big thing,” Konze said.

This is one of 17 new fire stations the county plans to build over the next several years, with a price tag of $4 million apiece. The fire chief said being able to reduce the risk of his team getting cancer is worth every penny.

“They deserve for us to do the right things to protect them in all cases,” Weech said.