Supporting firefighters who are fighting cancer

Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 9:12 AM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - January is National Firefighter Cancer Awareness month. The disease is the leading cause of death for firefighters around the country.

“We have a higher percentage of non-Hodgkins lymphoma,” said Alex Doerr, the Nevada state director of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. “We have a higher percentage of getting breast cancer, thyroid cancer, testicular cancer, brain cancer. Lung cancer certainly.”

There are more than 265 known carcinogens in a typical residential fire alone, so limiting exposure is key to prevention. Including things like using a breathing apparatus, and scrubbing down with a decontamination kit after the fire is out.

“Reducing the exposures to it,” continued Doerr. “So getting all of that nasty soot and all of those hazardous chemicals off, or at least lowering the concentration of them.”

The Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District has implemented several safety procedures in recent years, to funneling out the diesel exhaust in stations (caused by the fire engines), to placing tanks and gear outside the cab of the truck. All in an effort to cut down on exposure.

“Simple things; taking a shower after the incident,” added Doerr. “Not having dirty turnouts or PPE equipment that is dirty to where we are re-contaminating ourselves.”

A big part of that is the cleaning and maintenance of the gear. And today, Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation is donating $33,000 to TMFPD to purchase extractors, the large washers and driers used to clean the turnout gear.

“These extractors are not cheap,” admitted Doerr. “We put in for this grant and it’s a huge success for us. And we’re very thankful to Firehouse Subs for giving us that money, because it’s a lot.”

But despite all of the safety measures, cancer is a very real danger. Which is where the Firefighter Cancer Support Network comes in.

“What are your concerns, what are your needs? What is your cancer diagnosis? And then, how can we help you,” explained Doerr.

That support includes a mentorship; pairing the current patient with another firefighter who had the same diagnosis.

“And get answers from someone who’s walked in their shoes,” added Doerr. “That can go hey, this is what this is going to feel like. This is what things you need to get in place.”

It supports thousands of firefighters and their families across the county, including those who have already retired, when the majority of cases are discovered.

“Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you’re not a part of this family and community anymore,” said Doerr. “Just to know that they are not in this alone. There is a massive amount of resources that are there to help them.”

If you or somebody you know is a firefighter in need of help, you can get more information by clicking on the link below.

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