It has been 11 years since Sean Mitchell has run a marathon. But next Monday Mitchell, the deputy fire chief of Nantucket’s Fire Department, will run in the Boston Marathon representing The Last Call Foundation.
“When we first started to get involved in the PFAS and turnout gear issue we learned pretty early on The Last Call Foundation was pretty heavily involved in that issue but also just firefighter health and safety in general,” Mitchell said. “The first study of turnout gear looking for PFAS was conducted at Notre Dame but funded by The Last Call Foundation. That was one major thing they have done in the last decade but just one of a lot of things.”
“When I saw they were interested in getting people to run this year I decided I would put my name in and give it a shot.”
The Last Call Foundation was established in memory of fallen firefighter Michael Kennedy, who was killed at the age of 33 while responding to a fire on Beacon Street in 2014.
“After his death his mother started this foundation completely geared toward firefighter health and safety,” Mitchell said. “They fund legitimate scientific research, provide safety gear and equipment like extractors that we wash our gear in. They are involved in testing of fire hose, so we can have the most up to date and safe fire hose that can withstand the damage that sometimes a hose undergoes when you go into a fire. It can burn through, it can rip, it can tear.”
Mitchell said he has been following a program to the best of his ability, but has had a busy summer after the birth of a child in July and his new position as the deputy chief of Nantucket’s Fire Department.
“When this schedule allows I have been out running, trying to build up mileage, and my goal is just to make sure I finish and feel good at the end,” he said. “I’ve never ran the Boston Marathon but I know the hills at the end can be a little difficult once you hit Newton. So I am a little bit nervous about how that is going to go. I know I’ll get through it.”
Mitchell’s wife, Ally, will be in attendance with their baby while his other kids stay with his parents in Cape Cod to watch the marathon on TV.
“My boys are pretty active little guys who probably can’t stand around that long so they will be staying with my parents on the Cape watching on TV,” Mitchell joked. “They would be tough for my wife to control in that crowd.”
The Nantucket PFAS Action Group received a grant to conduct research on Nantucket of firefighters and how the gear is affecting them when they are exposed to PFAS. The research will begin in the next couple of months and will be done with the assistance of The Last Call Foundation.
“We have a few sets of gear that have much less PFAS than the normal gear does so we will be able to compare both of those and how our efforts to mitigate the exposure are working,” he said. “We know there is a lot of PFAS in the older and new gear. We are lucky we have a few sets of the low PFAS gear because a lot of departments don’t. But even that still has PFAS in it. We know it is there, we know we are being exposed, and it will be a small study of how much of it is getting onto our skin.”
“We still worry about when the gear breaks down it turns into dust and we are breathing it in or ingesting it so we are eating it. But this study will look at how the low PFAS gear versus the PFAS gear and what that difference is as far as skin exposure.”
Mitchell had raised $18,805 as of Tuesday afternoon, nearly doubling his initial goal of $10,000. He said The Last Call Foundation has agreed to donate all money donated between now and the marathon towards this study on the island. The only requirement is that people write Nantucket PFAS Action Group in the comment box.
“If you make are able to make a donation there is a little box where you can put a comment,” Mitchell said. “In that comment box if they write Nantucket PFAS Action Group that money will go directly to that research being done on Nantucket. We have had a lot of people donate who didn’t put the comment in. So if anyone is able to donate anything to the cause and puts a comment in, the foundation will make sure that comes to us here on Nantucket.”