Firefighters, who risk their lives for us every day, are paying the price when it comes to their health.
Now, local fire departments are stepping up to help address the growing concerns of cancer and exposure to cancer-causing agents.
It’s not a danger firefighter Jerry Smith thought he would have to fight when he took his oath 22 years ago.
“Back in the day you had the soot on your face and you’re filthy from being in the fire and it was kind of a badge of honor,” said Smith. “Now, things have drastically changed.”
Nowadays when the job is done, Smith says he wants to get out of the fire and out of his gear as fast as possible, especially after the health scare he went through earlier this year.
“I did have skin cancer,” said Smith. “It was on my cheek and it’s where the facepiece seal sits on your face.”
There’s no way to tell if the job caused Smith’s cancer, but it was certainly a wake-up call.
“You don’t want it to happen to you,” said Smith.
That’s why fire stations across the country are changing up the way they do things.
“We have bunker gear bags now so we can put the bunker gear inside that bag when we have to travel,” said Lt. Demond Dade. “It’s no longer just sitting in our car, out in the open. That bag is designed to keep particles inside.”
Dade is on the Cancer Prevention Committee. The committee started about a year ago at the Quincy Fire Department to bring awareness to the fact that cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters, that according to the International Association of Firefighters.
“Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen chloride; all of which are not just inhaled but most of them are absorbed through our skin,” said Dade.
Another danger lingers inside the firehouse itself. Diesel fumes are coming from the exhaust on the trucks.
“We’ve got this new vent system,” said Dade. “It’s magnetized. It’s hooked directly to the truck. As the truck starts, immediately those exhaust fumes are taken up and out of the building and we don’t have to have those linger in the station any longer. This stays attached until the truck pulls out.”
All of these measures have helped to cut down on exposure but it all comes with a price tag.
“There’s still plans for the future,” said Smith. “Everything costs money. It’s just baby steps but any little thing that can be done is going to help out.”
Due to new legislation passed last year, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will create a registry of firefighters to track links between workplace exposures and cancer. With that, researchers will be able to better understand the risk of cancer among firefighters.