News & Events
April 21, 2022 | Blog
EvaClean Insights Q & A
Joseph Finn - Former Commissioner, Chief of the Boston Fire Department and New EvaClean First Responder Safety Advisor
First responders are a close-knit community, and most everyone knows the name, Joseph E. Finn. During a life-long career with the Boston Fire Department spanning close to four decades, Finn worked his way through the ranks to Fire Commissioner/Chief of Department, earning the moniker of Boston’s top firefighter. He is credited with making numerous enhancements to the fire safety and EMS fields, and has received many prestigious honors, including Fire Chief of the Year. But, Finn is most known for introducing wellness programs to reduce epidemic level cancer rates among firefighters.
EvaClean recently announced that Finn would be joining their organization as First Responder Safety Advisor as they continue to prioritize their infection prevention efforts with firehouses across the nation.
As part of the announcement, Dan Clifford, CMO of EvaClean had the opportunity to interview Finn and learn about his career path and his enduring commitment to the first responder community.
Dan: For the audience’s sake, let me share a bit of background. Joe Finn grew up in Dorchester, served four years in the Marines, then joined the Boston Fire Department in 1984. After nearly four decades, in which he held every rank including Commissioner, Chief of the Boston Fire Department, Joe retired in March 2020. Under his stewardship, the Boston Fire Department put a renewed focus on health and wellness to reduce the cancer rate amongst firefighters. Joe ushered in a new era with historical investments in firehouses apparatus and equipment, and established a training program that increased the number of EMTs in the department by 50%. He also initiated and trained the first team of investigators to examine harassment and discrimination allegations. Joe has been honored with numerous awards, including Fire Chief of the year. It's quite a list! Joe, what inspired you to become a firefighter?
Joe: As you said, I grew up in Dorchester. My father happened to be a Boston Firefighter in our neighborhood. I had great admiration for him and his fellow firefighters. As a young kid, I got to see my father working in our neighborhood and saw firsthand what they did. It inspired me and my brother to become Boston firefighters.
Dan: Can you give us some examples of favorite high points in your career?
Joe: Well, the most recent one was certainly rising through the ranks and becoming Commissioner, Chief of the Department. I had two great partners: the Mayor of the City of Boston at the time, Marty Walsh; and the President of Local 718, Richy Perish. We accomplished things in such a short time because I had their support and a clear vision of where we needed to bring the department. The ability to change out all the apparatus, build the first firehouse in over 30 years, and all we accomplished were certainly the high points of my career.
Dan: I don't think the general public really realizes the epidemic level of cancer rates for firefighters, which is a real focus of yours. What was the moment when you recognized something needed to be addressed about cancer and firefighters?
Joe: It was always was under the surface. There were a number of Boston firefighters who were sick and tragically passed away from cancer. It was almost like it was accepted for what it was. As I watched some of my friends develop significant cancers and diseases and eventually pass away, I realized there was something we needed to do. The environment we work in is definitely hostile. Flame retardants and plastics are probably the biggest contributors around the cancer problem. We needed to do something different so, we changed tactically how we fought fires and improved the equipment. We put the focus on individual responsibility for personal health and making sure members remained protected throughout an event, kept their mask on, cleaned their gear, came home and showered within an hour. All of those things would help reduce the likelihood of carcinogens penetrating through, general absorption, inhalation, and respiration.
Dan: At EvaClean, we talk about how the unique firehouse setting is an area we can really help address harmful pathogens and bacteria to make them safer for the team. As a firefighter, was the firehouse considered your second home?
Joe: The reality is that it is your second home. Firefighters spend 48 hours throughout the week in the Firehouse so it should be treated as a home. It has the family persona to it. Most firefighters view it as their second home and it’s certainly where they spend the majority of their time.
Dan: What was your impression when you first heard about the EvaClean Infection Prevention Solution?
Joe: I was impressed. It’s certainly a benefit in the fire service to keep firehouses clean. Much like at home when young children go to school and bring back a cold, viruses and bacteria would spread through the firehouse. The more I learned about EvaClean, the more benefits I could see from using the best technologies and safer chemistries to mitigate pathogens in firehouse settings. The biggest benefit is protecting firefighters and EMTs from illness and disease, as well as reducing the loss of critical man-hours when emergency personnel get sick.
Dan: What are some of the most common infections among firefighters living in a firehouse?
Joe: It wasn’t unusual for all sorts of different respiratory illnesses to go through the firehouse that you’re typically exposed to. The advent of Covid magnified how important cleaning and disinfection is. It impacted firehouses all across the country. Covid will be part of illnesses and diseases for our lifetime. If we can mitigate it with EvaClean’s technology and solution, I think it will make for a much safer and healthier environment in the firehouse.
Dan: Tell me a bit about the cleaning protocols that firehouses use on a daily basis. While there’s always cleaning, sometimes those protocols aren’t standardized and are house-by-house or team-by-team. In your time as Commissioner, how were you trying to establish some standards across infection and cleaning protocols?
Joe: I’ll start with bucket gear. This goes back to what we talked about earlier about cancer and how much of an epidemic it is in the fire service. When firefighters came back from a fire, their gear was actually embedded with carcinogens and toxins. We put industrial washers and dryers into firehouses so they had clear gear. Now, every Boston firefighter had two sets of gear instead of starting a tour of duty with dirty gear, which was a practice in the past. With Covid here to stay, we need to ensure our firefighters are protected against viruses and bacteria before firehouses become incubators for contagious diseases.
Dan: One of my favorite quotes from you is, “Trucks and tools are nice but it's boots-on-the-ground that make our mission work.” At EvaClean we sell some pretty amazing equipment and alternative chemicals but our finest moments really happen when we're partnering with firehouse teams, EVS, nurses, doctors, business owners, and cleaning teams to make facilities safer. So for us, it's all about the team. Across your years of always working within a team, what are some of the key characteristics of a great team?
Joe: Fire is so dynamic and such an unpredictable occurrence, the only way you combat that successfully is with a team approach. In fire ground tactics, everyone has a role to play. The engine company supplies water to the fire. The ladder company vents the roof and does search and rescue. If the team is not up to standards and not performing as they should, you're going to have a negative outcome. The fire might not go out as quickly as you like. Sadly, there could be a loss of life because you didn’t execute properly. There are all sorts of negatives when the team doesn’t work efficiently. In the fire service, being trained and knowing how to execute your job as the team expects is so important to a successful outcome on the fire ground.
Dan: When you announced your retirement you said you wanted to spend more time with your family. You are an avid New England skier and a 15-time Boston Marathoner. Since retirement where have you been spending your time and what’s ahead for you?
Joe: I believe in the outdoors and have always remained active. Running has been a hobby for many years. Being retired, I’ve now been able to get back into skiing and have a great time doing it. And family time is the most precious thing you have in the world. It’s nice to see your children and grandchildren and spend time with them outdoors. We spend a lot of time in New Hampshire but, we are back in Boston a few times a week. We love both communities and both communities have been great to me.
Dan: That’s a great way to wrap it up. Your steadfast commitment to the men and women of the fire department and the people of Boston has never wavered across nearly 40 years of your career. We’re honored to have you on our team here at EvaClean.
Joe: Thanks, it was great talking to you. I think EvaClean will make a difference out there in the fire service world and certainly help reduce illnesses.