Since 2007, five members of the Fayetteville Fire Department have died of cancer. Officials are trying to prevent any more deaths attributed to occupational hazards. Capt. Jay Leonard and Capt. Adam Ferguson have been involved in the fire department’s Cancer Prevention Initiative for a year now. Cancer is striking the fire service at alarming rates.
As of last week, the more than 300 Fayetteville firefighters have attended cancer information classes and learned of ways to protect themselves.
“The intent of the class was to educate the firefighters on the risk they face and actions they can take to minimize these risks,” said Deputy Fire Chief Mike Hill. Captains Leonard and Ferguson said firefighters face cancer rates that are substantially greater than most Americans. They said the most likely causes are the chemicals emitted from ordinary household items when they burn.
In 2006, the University of Cincinnati studied firefighters across the country and found they were twice as likely to die from cancer than nonfirefighters. Laws in nearly 40 states have expanded medical, workers’ compensation and disability coverage for such cancer cases, and fire departments across the country are revamping training and how they handle gear to try and reduce risks.
Research concluded that firefighters should shower as soon as possible after fighting fires. Their uniforms and turnout gear should be washed immediately because carcinogens can easily collect on a firefighter’s clothing and skin. The Cancer Prevention Initiative provides details about which products to use to decontaminate turnout gear. Information about protective hoods is also provided. It is even recommended that the interiors of fire engine cabs be decontaminated.
“Our firefighters face dangers every day that most people don’t face, and this research shows another danger,” Fire Chief Ben Major said. “I would like to thank Capt. Leonard and Capt. Ferguson for their hard work on this initiative.” Both men were honored with the city of Fayetteville’s Core Values Award last week.
“The true reward is the contribution they have made to saving lives in the firefighting industry,” said Major.
The Fire Department’s cancer research includes 75 pages of facts and videos from fire departments across the country. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the final results of what is currently the largest study of cancer risk among career firefighters ever conducted in the U.S. The study of 30,000 firefighters showed that, compared with the general population, firefighters on average are at higher risk for certain kinds of cancer – mainly oral, digestive, respiratory, genital and urinary cancers.