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What You Should Know About Fire Fighters and Cancer

Fire fighters are not only at risk when they respond to a fire or medical emergency, but cancer is threatening their well- being in alarming numbers.

Cancer rates run statistically higher for fire fighters compared to the general North American population.

The IAFF is deeply concerned and committed about protecting its members from the dangers that fire fighters face including occupational diseases.

The IAFF in conjunction with the Fire Fighter’s Cancer Support Network are working to make it a top priority to establish a cancer awareness and prevention program to educate its members on the hazards of fire-fighting.  The IAFF will work to ensure that fire fighters will have the tools necessary through videos and online training to increase preventative measures.

“Cancer is the number one killer of fire fighters in the fire service,” said Patrick J. Morrison, Assistant to the General President for Occupational Health, Safety and Medicine.
“We are working to educate our members, leaders and management to effectively raise awareness that can have a positive change to reduce the number of cancer deaths in the fire service.”

There is significant scientific evidence that demonstrates fire fighters have a higher mortality rate due to cancer compared to other occupational illnesses and these studies clearly indicate that such cancers are linked to the occupational employment of fire fighter.

When fire fighters fight structural fires they are exposed to all kinds of hazardous chemicals including carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, benezene, styrene, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, etc.

Fire fighters are significantly more likely to develop four type of cancers than workers in any other field, including being diagnosed with: testicular cancer, multiple myeloma, non-hodgkins lymphoma and prostate.

Statistics collected from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue IAFF Local 1403 found out of 1792 active members that 13 percent were diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Forty-nine percent of retirees were diagnosed with cancer in 2011.

To bring the cancer rate down, more has to be done to overcome a cultural mindset that says the “dirtier the gear the better the more experience you show as a fire fighter.”

That mindset may prove fatal to more fire fighters.

Fire fighters can reduce their risks of cancer by doing the following:
-getting annual physical checkups
- shower to remove soot and other chemicals after every fire
- wear their SCBAs at all times (even after the fire is out)
-clean turn out gear, gloves and helmets
-maintain/install  proper diesel exhaustive systems in your fire station
- never take contaminated bunker pants and boots in living/sleeping quarters
-do not take contaminated clothes or PPE home or store openly in your vehicle

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