‘Firefighter Cancer Collaborative’ aims to provide education, prevention in Sarasota and Manatee counties

LONGBOAT KEY, Fla. (WFLA) — Cancer is among the leading cause of death for firefighters. A new partnership between Sarasota Memorial’s Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute and local fire stations aims to help change that and save more lives.

“When firefighters joined the fire department, we knew it was a dangerous job. What we didn’t know was that over a period of years, the cumulative effect, what it would cause on our bodies and we are just learning that now,” said Longboat Key Fire Chief Paul Dezzi.

Longboat Key Fire Rescue has been working with SMH for about a year now on a “Firefighter Cancer Collaborative.”

According to a news release, the initiative aims to “raise awareness about the occupational hazards of the profession and share important safeguards and steps firefighters can take to reduce their exposure to hazardous and cancer-causing agents.”

The collaborative will also provide free navigation and support services to firefighters and their families if they’re affected by a cancer diagnosis.

Assistant Chief Fire Marshal for Longboat Key Jane Herrin is a cancer survivor and believes the new initiative is critical.

“It’s very important as a cancer survivor. Everything that they are into in the fire incidents is carcinogenic, so being mindful of what is around you and using all of the proper equipment, it couldn’t be more important. Obviously, years ago, when we started, we didn’t have these luxuries, but throughout the years, it has gotten extremely better,” said Herrin.

The initiative will also help emphasize the importance of early and routine screenings.

“Any cancer if you catch it earlier, is better than if you let it go,” said Dr. Richard Brown with the Jellison Cancer Institute. “Firefighters tend to be younger and more fit and they tend not to think anything is going to happen to them. Unfortunately, that is not correct,” he continued.

Fire Chief Paul Dezzi believes the follow ups and screenings will make a big difference. He said his 33-person department has seen its share of cancer diagnoses over the years.

“We do provide annual physicals for our firefighters, the problem that we have is the firefighters are not doing a follow up. So when a firefighter has a questionable scan or a questionable test, a lot of times because they are young, they decide it’s not something they want to follow up on, and that is why it is important for us to make sure that our firefighters or all firefighters are doing a follow up care to their physician,” said Dezzi.

Brown says firefighters need to know their risks and address them.

“Firefighters still remain at a much higher risk of developing a malignancy then the general population and we need to improve that. It is about education and understanding that you are at risk,” said Brown.