MADISON, Ala. (WAFF) – Firefighters put their own lives at risk daily to save others in their communities. In addition to the danger of putting out fires, firefighters are more susceptible to different types of cancers.
They have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.
“Firefighting now is categorized as a group one carcinogen. So, that classification [is] the same as [what] tobacco was for lung cancer,” said Dustin Spires, Deputy Chief of Madison Fire and Rescue.
Chronic exposure to heat, toxic smoke, and the biproducts of fire puts firefighters at risk for developing cancer. Research shows the cancers most responsible for this higher risk are digestive, oral, respiratory, and urinary cancers.
The Madison Fire Department and several departments across the U.S. say they are providing firefighters the necessary tools and guidance to develop life-saving protocols for cancer prevention.
According to Spires, they ensure that team members are wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) mask. The masks provide a great amount of airway protection from toxic gases.
He says the firefighters also wash their PPE, skin, and spots of exposure after fires. Currently, the department is conducting medical screenings and running blood tests to find biomarkers that may detect cancer earlier in their team members.
“What it comes down to is, you know, putting measures in place to reduce our exposure to the smoke, the nasty stuff, teaching our guys and gals healthy behaviors. And then, you know, early detection and screening are keys” said Spires.
The physicals and medical screenings are annual. Spires says while it’s voluntary for their members to participate, they’ve got a pretty good participation rate.
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