Healthy Living: Firefighters at greater risk for cancer
We call them our heroes for what they think of as just a job. But they are at a higher risk of cancer than most people. Our Geoff Redick tells us why.
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We call them our heroes for what they think of as just a job.
"It's something, a profession we've chosen," said City of Batavia Fire Department Chief Jim Maxwell.
But firefighters have always had more workplace hazards than just about anyone.
Maxwell said, "Slips, trips, falls, working on ladders, heights, debris falling."
"We see the result of certain firefighters across the country coming down with certain types of cancer," Maxwell said.
The increase in cancer is due mostly to carcinogenic chemicals used in modern homes and furniture. Asbestos was always a threat, but now synthetic-woven fabrics and different plastics all give off harmful airborne chemicals when they burn.
"In particular among firefighters, we know that compared to the general population, we see more kidney cancer, we see more lymphoma, we see more multiple myeloma," said Dr. Mary Reid of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
Reid speaks with firefighters across New York State about their added risk for cancer.
"Their hands can be exposed, their face can be exposed. Many times you see them standing by a fire, but not wearing their mask," Reid said.
A 2007 study from the University of Cincinnati found that cancer rates for firefighters are roughly double the rate of the general public.
Reid said, "No protection is going to be 100 percent."
But that doesn't mean firefighters are throwing caution to the wind. One of the most successful ways to fight cancer is to simply eliminate the risk.
Maxwell said, "The coat, the bunkers, the helmet, Nomex hood and the biggest thing that we wear to protect our internal organs is the self-contained breathing apparatus."
Measures that save lives.
"Had close friends and friends associated with the fire service, die of cancer,” Maxwell said. “I think it's a good education, to educate fellow firefighters around the area. You know, we're in this together."
Doctors advise firefighters to keep all skin covered while on scene of a fire and wash equipment regularly, especially respirators. Firefighters should also get regular cancer screenings.
After all, at some point, we're all going to need our heroes.