We’ve seen the courage and importance of firefighters in our communities, and especially as fires continue to rage in California, but their gear isn’t always the best. That's why two men, Jeff Rountree and Bill Hamilton, have created the charity Hoods for Heroes to make sure these firefighters have a layer of protection some departments simply can’t afford.
"When everyone's running away, they're running in," said Rountree, co-founder of Hoods for Heroes. "They don’t care what race you are, who you voted for, it’s just, 'let me save whoever’s in this house.'"
It’s this respect for firefighters that made Rountree and Hamilton want to do something to honor them.
"What we realized is there are quite a few events for military members and law enforcement, but there really isn’t anything for firefighters," Hamilton said.
It led them to bring a banner to the firefighter conference Fire Department Instructor's Conference and having firefighters sign them. They say they were shocked by what was written.
"About a third of the signatures were 'Rest in Peace,'" Hamilton said.
Rest in peace, not from the fire, not from falling through a collapsed roof, but from cancer.
"Cancer in fire service number one is an epidemic, but its something that majority of people are unaware of," Hamilton said.
The CDC says the limited studies that have been done indicate that firefighters are at a higher risk for cancer.
After researching and talking to fire departments, Hamilton and Rountree say they believe a large part of that risk stems from the firefighters' hood. They found that the standard firefighter hood material essentially turns into a sponge from sweat and water as they work.
"All of these carcinogens that these guys are being exposed to are being absorbed into this hood and into their skin," Hamilton said.
There is a better option, though.
"We call them chemical blocking hoods," Hamilton said.
Hamilton says these hoods wick away 99 percent of moisture, are light and still comfortable.
"The challenge is that this [standard] hood is somewhere between $15-$25," Hamilton explained. "This [chemical blocking] hood is $115-$125."
"When you're talking about 400, 500, 1000 people and now you're adding $100 per person," Rountree said, "that’s just not in the budget."
That’s why Hamilton and Rountree created Hoods for Heroes, now raising funds to buy the expensive hoods for fire departments.
"When we’re talking about protecting the first people that'll arrive at your door if something happens to you, we have to do this," Rountree said.
In just 15 weeks, they’ve raised enough money to outfit all of Clay County, but now they say departments from other states are hoping to get some help too. If you’d like to donate or find out more, click here.