Firefighters battle big blazes every day to keep our communities safe, but one type of drug is creating a more dangerous flame across the country.
Homemade meth labs can take a toll on firefighters' health and taxpayers' wallets.
A Monroe County fire engine races off to another emergency.
"Firefighters and first responders are often the first on scene, and oftentimes, especially when a structure is on fire, we can't see what's inside," says Monroe Fire Captain Shane Cook.
Cook says that becomes an even bigger problem when his guys could be walking into a homemade meth lab.
"Sometimes it's not until after the fact that we even know it's a meth lab," says Cook.
Monroe County Fire Battalion Chief Jason Lott says meth lab fires don't look any different on the outside, but inside, you might spot items like propane tanks, pill bottles, or paint thinners that give it away.
Lott says," Any fire is inherently dangerous to us, but with meth labs, when the chemicals burn, they give off more toxic fumes than a normal fire."
According to a study from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the number of meth lab incidents in Georgia declined from 331 to 24 from 2010 to 2014.
But the toxic chemicals created in the remaining meth labs cause respiratory problems, burns, eye irritation, and skin irritation to those exposed, and if a meth lab catches fire, Cook says smoke can carry the chemicals hundreds of yards away, endangering civilians nearby.
"The fumes tend to hang around your clothes, your turnout gear. If you inhale it, it's almost instantaneous that you'll have to be transported to the hospital," Cook says.
But medical treatment isn't the only cost.
"The turnout gear of a firefighter has to be thrown away, has to be thrown out."
Cook says the average firefighter's suit and equipment in Monroe County costs about $8,000.
He says after one meth-related fire, the department had to burn 3 sets of equipment, costing the department nearly $24,000 to replace it.
"The department will have to re-purchase that, and in turn, that is a cost to the taxpayers," says Cook.
Even though it comes with a high price for taxpayers, Cook says the goal is to keep everyone safe.
"Firefighters now are routinely training on it because of the possibility of this coming into every community," Cook says.
Lott says in Monroe County, some firefighters train as hazmat technicians and taught to decontaminate people exposed to toxic chemicals so they're prepared if they are called out to a meth lab.
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