Reducing the risk of firefighter occupational cancer

January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month
Published: Jan. 20, 2021 at 6:35 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Fighting occupational cancer through prevention and awareness.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) lists occupational cancer as the leading cause of death among line of duty firefighters.

Reducing the risk of firefighter occupational cancer
Reducing the risk of firefighter occupational cancer(KOLO)

Alex Doerr from the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District is also the Nevada State Director for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

He is working on raising awareness about occupational cancer and best practices throughout Northern Nevada.

“The International Association of Fire Fighters is our sustaining partner with our network,” explained Doerr. “They have identified this need. Occupational cancer is one of the top two priorities within the IAFF. Behavioral health is number one and occupational cancer being number two.”

Doerr said firefighters are twice as likely to get cancer due to the constant exposure of carcinogens while working on the job.

“There are probably about 12 types of cancers that we have identified that firefighters and EMS workers in fire stations are more likely to get and that averages about two times greater than the public.”

While firefighters are equipped with the proper apparatus and a decontamination kit to sanitize themselves after a call which helps reduce the exposure rate by 85%, Doerr also said lifestyle habits can play a big role.

“Being in that mindset of eating a little bit healthier, getting plenty of exercise, drinking plenty of water. Staying away from alcohol and excessive caffeine,” added Doerr. “If you’re a tobacco user, try quitting. Wear sunscreen outside. We do a lot of wild land and urban interface fires. We’re out in the sun multiple days.”

Doerr said it’s also important for firefighters to follow up with a doctor to get a physical every year.

”Get those screenings. At our department in Truckee Meadows we do a thyroid screening,” said Doerr.

Another important reminder, Doerr said is for firefighters to take care of themselves after tending to a structure fire call.

“This means getting off all the clothes that are contaminated, all of that structure personal protection equipment off,” added Doerr. “Get it cleaned, getting new station uniforms on after an incident and taking a shower.”

Doerr said not only does he connect with firefighters who have a cancer diagnosis to give them the support and help they need, but he also wants people to know there are many resources available.

“We don’t just go after paid career fire departments and personnel,“ said Doerr. “We as the Cancer Support Network also help volunteer firefighters. We understand there’s a financial component to that and so a lot of these templates and information is little to no money.”

He said it’s all about increasing education and making the right changes to reduce the risk.

“It’s about spread that awareness, and improved legislation change that allows us to do our jobs better, and when and if we come around with cancer there’s an avenue to take care of us,” said Doerr.

In 2019, the IAFF dedicated a Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Wall of Honor in Colorado Springs to members who died from occupational cancer.

For the Firefighter Cancer Support Network page, click here. For its Facebook page, click here.
To learn more about the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, click here. For its Facebook page, click here.
To learn more about the Professional Fire Fighters of Nevada, click here.

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