Posts Tagged cancer in the fire service

Cancer in the fire service

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President Donald Trump on Monday signed legislation to set up a national registry for firefighters to help track links between exposure to fumes and cancer. The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to set up a database in order to study possible links between cancer and the fumes and toxins firefighters are exposed to. The idea is use the information to develop better equipment and other techniques to protect firefighters from cancer-causing chemicals.

The lawmakers cited a 2015 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that found that a greater incidence of certain cancers among firefighters compared with the general population.

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Cancer in the fire service

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Portsmouth (NH) Fire Lt. Russ Osgood was next to Firefighter Sarah Fox the day she died from cancer at Concord Hospital when he learned another fire brother, Jeff Bokum, had the disease as well.

The toll Osgood faced in that moment at the hospital was emotional, but a financial one came shortly after. Osgood and firefighters worked to raise thousands of dollars for Bokum’s out-of-pocket costs during his six-month battle as they had for Fox in the months before her death, cancer benefits not yet covered for fighters.

Tuesday will bring the passage of a law funding cancer treatment benefits Bokum and Fox went without before they died within a five-month span. 

The bill will allow firefighter cancer treatment benefits to be funded through worker’s compensation as no funding mechanism was previously established by the Legislature. It’s passage will come 28 years after a law establishing a presumptive cancer law for firefighters was ruled unconstitutional because it lacked a funding mechanism, leaving firefighters with cancer to pay many costs out of pocket.

Firefighters had previously advocated for funding in Concord for years without success. The signing of the bill is meaningful not only to Portsmouth firefighters but to firefighters across the state.

Both the Bokum and Fox families struggled with finances as they worked to pay for treatment. Bokum went to MD Anderson Center in Houston, Texas, where he paid for for expensive treatment not covered by insurance on top of the cost of living in his temporary home.

Fox was raising three children, including two young twins, and was unable to contribute to her family’s business, which strapped the family. She also used all of her vacation time to deal with her treatment, and when she ran out, firefighters worked to swap shifts to help her. The creation of a leave bank for firefighters to donate leave time for other employees to use was also inspired by Fox.

Firefighters raised more than $100,000 over the course of a year and a half for Bokum and Fox. About 500 motorcyclists raised $25,000 in 2010 for the first annual Sarah’s Ride, which continues to this day. Donations big and small were received, from the large amount coming from Globe Manufacturing to $5 donations from lemonade stands run by kids.

Firefighters were well aware other states offered cancer benefits to firefighters and were frustrated that so much work was needed to pay for illness deemed work-related under law. 

While losing Fox and Bokum was devastating for their fellow firefighters, their stories created awareness of firefighter cancer at a time when fewer people knew of their heightened risk. Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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Cancer in the fire service

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More than a year after a Houston firefighter died of cancer, her husband is fighting for benefits he says his wife earned. Margaret Roberts loved being a Houston firefighter. She did it for more than 21 years until her cancer-ravaged body simply couldn’t do it anymore. After a long fight with multiple myeloma, Margaret died in January 2017.

Three months after her death, Houston Fire Department Chief Sam Pena wrote a letter to the state pension system swearing, “Her death was a result of an illness sustained in the line of duty.” In a letter to the 100 Club after that, Pena again wrote that Roberts’ passing was “Declared a Line of Duty Death.”

Both letters would entitle Roberts’ surviving husband and children to benefits paid by groups other than the city of Houston. But when it comes to paying workers comp survivors benefits out of city funds, the city is hauling Roberts’ grieving family back before a workers comp judge. Despite losing the case for health benefits when Roberts was alive, the city wants to fight again on the same issue, claiming her multiple myeloma isn’t related to her firefighting work, but instead her race, weight, and family history.

Roberts’ own occupational medicine doctor declared in 2013, “In my professional opinion, Margaret Roberts’ multiple myeloma is work-related.”

The International Firefighters Union recognizes a link between multiple myeloma and firefighting. Four states specifically link cancer to firefighting. Scientific studies in 1983, 2001, 2006 and 2015 all suggest an increased or significantly elevated risk for firefighters getting multiple myeloma.

But Texas doesn’t recognize those studies, choosing instead to follow a United Nations-linked recommendation that doesn’t explicitly link the specific cancer to firefighting. The city refused to comment pending the lawsuits.

Roberts’ case is one of the first to go through the state’s workers comp system in which firefighters assert a link between cancer and fighting fires.

It is a growing issue across the country.

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Cancer in the fire service (more)

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The IAFC thanked Congress for final passage of  the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (H.R. 931), groundbreaking legislation which will create an anonymous, voluntary registry for firefighters at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In order to facilitate this research, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act would create an anonymous, voluntary registry for firefighters at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The data would include important information about the firefighter’s medical history; demographic information; number of incident responses and years in service; whether the firefighter was career or volunteer; what other jobs the firefighter might have had; and other risk factors. In addition, the registry would include under-represented types of firefighters, such as women and minorities.

Medical researchers would be able to use the information from this registry and compare it to information in state cancer registries to examine the relationship between firefighting and cancer. The purpose of this national registry will be to help researchers reduce the occurrence of cancer in our nation’s fire and emergency service. 

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Cancer in the Fire Service

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New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said he intends to sign a bill that passed the house last week to allow firefighter cancer treatment benefits to be funded through worker’s compensation.

Senate Bill 541 comes 28 years after a law was ruled unconstitutional that stated certain cancers are presumed to be work-related for firefighters, leaving firefighters with cancer to pay many of their costs out of pocket.

Bill McQuillen, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire said the bill would satisfy the call from firefighters for coverage funding as firefighters are considered to be at a higher risk of cancer than the general public. The state Supreme Court ruled the presumptive cancer law was unconstitutional in 1990 because the New Hampshire Constitution prohibits state mandates on municipalities without a set funding mechanism.

A representative from McQuillen’s union said the bill could mean more costs for municipalities since worker’s compensation rates would be adjusted. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dan Innis, R-New Castle, said the fact there are so few firefighter cancer cases each year indicates the cost impact on the worker’s compensation system will likely be low.

The bill as introduced would have used a surcharge on insurance policies to fund benefits for firefighters presumed to have gotten cancer from their work. The Senate amended the bill to remove that funding mechanism after insurance companies lobbied against it. The amendment instead established a commission to study options for funding the benefits.

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Cancer in the fire service (more)

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The Massachusetts Senate on Tuesday voted to set aside $420,000 to help municipalities buy equipment to remove deadly carcinogens from firefighters’ gear.

Under a budget amendment (1018) the money would seed a new trust fund to support the bulk purchase of extractors — large washing machines that can remove carcinogens that permeate clothing even after firefighters leave a scene. A $10,000 to $20,000 expense, extractors can be cost-prohibitive for municipalities, and nearly 30 percent of Massachusetts communities lack such equipment while others have outdated models.

In his maiden speech to his colleagues, the Foxborough Democrat invoked Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, and the late Sen. Ken Donnelly, whom he called “one of our own patron saints.” Donnelly, a 37-year Lexington firefighter who also held posts with the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, died in April 2017 after battling a brain tumor.

The U.S. Senate last week passed a bill which would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and maintain a registry to collect data regarding the incidence of cancer in firefighters. A 2015 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study found firefighters had a greater number of cancer diagnoses than the general population, according to Collins’ office. The bill had already passed the U.S. House, which now needs to approve a Senate amendment to it.

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Cancer in the fire service (more)

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A bill, which has passed the Senate and is in the House of Representatives, calls for the creation of a national firefighter cancer registry. The registry would be managed by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The registry would compile the incidences, make anonymous data available to researchers, and allow for increased collaboration between firefighters, experts and those investigating the links between the profession and the illnesses. The House of Representatives is expected to pass amended legislation in the coming weeks.

Research that has found a strong connection between firefighting and an increased risk for several major cancers including testicular, stomach, multiple myeloma and brain cancers. Firefighters are exposed to a range of harmful toxins such as asbestos and flame retardants that are linked to cancer.

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Cancer in the fire service (more)

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Long before he became San Diego’s fire chief, Brian Fennessy would wear his crusty, soot-covered helmet like a badge, proof he worked at one of the city’s busiest fire stations. He thought it gave him credibility and earned him the respect of peers. Now he knows his dirty gear harbored the toxins and carcinogens that haunt the scene of a fire, and that they might well revisit him in the future as cancer.

“I figure that’s what’s going to get me,” said Fennessy, who has been a firefighter since 1978. “When I worked for the Forest Service, man, we sprayed fuel breaks with chemicals that aren’t even allowed anymore. We inhaled that stuff; we were exposed to all kinds of bad stuff. “I figure it is just a matter of time before I’m diagnosed.” “It’s not going to be the roof caving in on you, or falling off the ladder – that’s not going to be what kills you, it is going to be cancer.”

Many fire departments around the country are working to change the culture of the fire service, encouraging firefighters to take steps to better protect themselves from dangerous fumes, smoke, and soot.

Cancer is the leading cause of firefighter line-of-duty deaths in the U.S., according to the International Association of Fire Fighters. In the past five years, more than 60 percent of the names added to the Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial Wall in Colorado were cancer-related deaths. The wall lists the names of more than 7,600 fallen firefighters.

Several studies looking at the association between firefighting and cancer have found higher rates of some types of cancers in firefighters compared with the general population, including cancers involving the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems.

The largest cancer study of U.S. firefighters to date, done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, looked at the health records of 30,000 firefighters in three U.S. cities between 1950 and 2009. It found those firefighters had a modest increase in cancer diagnoses (a 9 percent increase) and cancer-related deaths (a 14 percent increase) compared with the general population.

Such research — along with repeatedly hearing of colleagues in the fire service being diagnosed with cancer — prompted Fennessy to green-light his department’s cancer-prevention program just a few months after he was appointed San Diego’s chief in 2015. In the 18 months since the effort began, about a dozen employees have been diagnosed with cancer.

Firefighters have long worried about how their jobs were affecting their health, although much of the early focus was on lung cancer and other respiratory ailments caused by breathing in smoke. The dangers of soot were known way back in 1775 when it was linked to the first case of occupational cancer. A doctor noticed chimney sweeps in Britain were being stricken by a particular form of the disease.

In 1982, California became the first state in the country to adopt a presumptive law that makes it easier for firefighters to prove that their cancer is work-related, giving them access to workers’ compensation and survivor benefits for their families. That law was prompted by the deaths in 1973 of two Whittier firefighters who responded to a hazmat incident and died of a rare form of cancer within weeks of each other six years later.

Cancer awareness has become a priority for many firefighting agencies, addressed at professional conferences and by industry groups. A bill has twice been introduced in Congress that would create a voluntary national firefighter cancer registry, which officials say would track those diagnosed with the disease and assist future research efforts.

San Diego’s training kicks off with an emotional 8½-minute video that shares the stories of a dozen firefighters who have been diagnosed and treated for cancer. All 900 of the department’s firefighters have been trained. The room always gets quiet after the group watches the video. Firefighters can be exposed to a lifetime of toxins in a very compressed period of time, inhaling them or absorbing them into their skin.

San Diego’s fire stations are gradually being equipped with commercial-grade washing machines that can better clean dirty turnouts; they long have had equipment that vents diesel exhaust from firetrucks out of the buildings. Special wipes kept on engines allow firefighters in the field to clean their heads, necks, throats, underarms and hands before they get back to the station to shower. Firefighters are issued two sets of gear so they always have access to clean ones. They are supposed to take off dirty gear as soon as possible and keep it away from where they sleep and out of personal vehicles. Everyone has two protective hoods and captains carry spares so firefighters can change them out when they get wet or dirty.

Some departments are pursuing other methods in their quest to protect firefighters.

The Carlsbad Fire Department is outfitting four of its six stations with dry saunas and bicycles, known as chemical detox saunas. It is the second agency in California to purchase the units. After a fire, Carlsbad’s firefighters will take a shower and then ride the bikes until they work up a good sweat. The idea is they’ll sweat heavy metals and other toxins out of their skin. One firefighter who put a towel under the bike when he rode it after a fire said that whatever it was that came out of him was black and it was on the towel.

Ocean Beach FD Captain Todd Bechtel, a firefighter for 26 years, was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few years ago after a routine checkup. He underwent surgery and radiation, but recently learned his cancer has returned. Like others, he would sleep with his pants next to his bunk, take off his mask as soon as flames were knocked down and wear his flash hood over and over without washing it. He wonders if the interrupted sleep cycles typical in a busy station and other stresses also played a role.

“”Shame on the departments that aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in our business, in our profession right now,” San Diego Chief Brian Fennessy said. “I’d want my kids to be part of an organization that made taking care of their firefighters a priority.”

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Cancer in the Fire Service

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Most firefighters know all too well the price some of their colleagues pay for exposure to poisonous toxins. A growing body of evidence has shown firefighters have an increased risk of cancer and other serious illnesses compared to the general population, partly due to their exposure to hazardous chemicals from the smoke.

A groundbreaking study showing, among other things, that Ottawa (Canada) firefighters had from three to more than five times the amount of toxic chemicals in their urine after a fire compared to before a fire. And the study suggests the chemicals entered their bodies mainly through skin contact. 

The study, said Jules Blais, professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Ottawa, is among the first to look at the absorption of toxics chemicals by firefighters during real emergency situations. Its findings, based on urine samples and skin swabs from firefighters between January 2015 and April 2016, suggest that a major pathway for those toxins is through the skin. The evidence of absorption through the skin, particularly through the neck area, will help with the development of practices and technology to reduce that exposure. 

The Ottawa Fire Services has already made changes based on the findings in the hopes of reducing exposure of firefighters to toxic chemicals absorbed through their skin.  Much of the evolution of fire equipment and procedures has focused on breathing apparatus and clothing to protect firefighters from inhalation and heat while they fight fires. 

The Ottawa Fire Services introduced new decontamination policies, partly in response to the research, in an effort to avoid skin absorption of toxic chemicals. Firefighters are now required to strip off and clean their breathing apparatus, put it in a bag and send it for cleaning before returning to the station. They are also required to do the same with their bunker gear. In the past, firefighters would get into the trucks in dirty bunker gear and clean it at the station. Firefighters are also required to shower and change their clothes as quickly as possible in an attempt to remove all contaminants from their skin.

The research studied samples from 27 firefighters and 17 office workers over 16 months. The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that were studied, among other toxins, have been shown to be mutagenic, including mutations linked to cancer.

Researchers had expected to see evidence that the chemicals were being absorbed through the lungs, but didn’t. That suggested their breathing equipment was doing its job, but that there was another path of absorption — through the skin.

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Huntley Fire Protection District news

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After every fire and live-fire training exercise, Huntley firefighters use a $4,700 taxpayer-funded sauna at one of the district’s three firehouses. The three Sunlighten infrared saunas were bought with money from the district’s foreign fire insurance tax fund.

The infrared sauna puts the body into a fever state, where radical cells such as cancer cannot survive. Within an hour of a fire or live fire training, Huntley firefighters complete a gross decontamination at the scene, return to the firehouse for a shower, hit the sauna, then take another shower.

For more than a year, the Huntley Fire Protection District has used saunas in hopes of sweating out cancer-causing toxins – although there is little medical research on the topic. Cancer is the leading cause of death in firefighters outside of the line of duty, surpassing heart disease, according to the International Association of Firefighters.

Before the extensive decontamination process was instituted, you could smell products of combustion at the firehouse. Now it’s rarely noticeable. “If you can smell it, you’re breathing it in,” Huntley Assistant Fire Chief Al Schlick said, adding that chemicals are very common in burning materials these days.

Firefighters admit that there is not yet a lot of science backing up what they believe are the cancer-preventing benefits of sauna use.

Huntley is one of several departments in Illinois to buy saunas for this use, and it’s the first in McHenry County. Fire departments in Indianapolis and Toronto also have them.

thanks Dan

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