Ashland Fire Capt. Carl Stambaugh talks to Rotary.

ASHLAND A fire department that started in 1885 with 20 men carrying buckets now has 56 members, 16 assorted fire and rescue vehicles and three stations, but still struggles with equipment needs, an Ashland Fire Department officer said Monday.

Each of Ashland’s firefighters is cross-trained in a wide spectrum of special operations, but one of their chief risks — outside of running into burning buildings and diving into frigid, murky waters — is lack of sufficient bunker gear, according to Capt. Carl Stambaugh, who spoke to the Ashland Rotary.

Bunker gear refers to the heavy protective pants, jackets, boots and other garb firefighters wear to guard them against flames and fumes.

The department has sufficient gear for each firefighter and each shift, but the problem arises when the on-duty crew is called out twice or more in the same shift, Stambaugh said.

Ideally, gear should be washed after each use to cleanse it of toxic materials deposited by smoke and flames.

Otherwise, firefighters are subject to contamination by contact with the toxins, some of which are carcinogens. “Cancer is the leading factor in firefighter deaths . . . there are 13 types of cancer attributed to firefighting,” Stambaugh said.

The origin of the contamination lies in modern building materials and synthetic furniture fabrics, which release contaminants when they burn, he said.

The typical avenue of contamination is absorption through the skin when handling the smoke-soiled equipment, he said.

The struggle is one of money, according to Stambaugh — like all city departments, the fire department operates on a limited budget and hasn’t as yet been able to solve the equipment problem.

Firefighters face other challenges in their day-to-day work, and the Ashland department’s approach is broad and extensive training, according to Stambaugh. Each firefighter undergoes about 200 hours of training per year in areas like hazardous materials, water rescue, dive rescue  and confined space rescue.

All of it is important given Ashland’s proximity to heavy industry, railroads and river traffic, he said.

Members of larger metropolitan departments typically train in a narrower range of special operations, but what strengthens the Ashland department is putting all firefighters through every training. “Ashland has one of the best-trained departments in Kentucky,” he said.

(606) 326-2652 |

Recommended for you