Posts Tagged Cancer message for firefighters

Cancer message for firefighters (more)

From the Boston Fire Department

Firefighters in Boston are battling a cancer epidemic. But there are steps that can be taken to prevent this terrible disease.


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Cancer message for firefighters (more)

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Mark Rine no longer runs into burning buildings or performs emergency medical procedures.

Instead, the Columbus firefighter spends his days standing in front of other firefighters and warning them about a danger he knew nothing about until Sept. 11, 2012. That was the day a doctor told him he had melanoma. He had asked a dermatologist to look at a spot on his back. The doctor said it was four other spots that concerned him.

Two weeks later, Rine underwent his first surgery. Another followed. But by that point, the cancer had spread, and he was told it could not be stopped.

“Let my example be your reason for change,” Rine, 33, of Granville said last week while addressing a dozen Violet Township firefighters.

Rine used to work at Station 8 on the Near East Side. Because of the cancer, he can no longer do the job. He tried going back to the station after surgery and while on chemotherapy, but the work aggravated the tumor at the base of his spine, which affected his mobility.

“Out of all the things that still to this day get me emotional to talk about, that would draw tears, it’s not being at Station 8 doing my job. I miss it,” he said.

When he learned he had cancer, he had no idea that firefighters are at greater risk than others. While surfing the internet one sleepless night, he stumbled upon a 2006 study by researchers at the University of Cincinnati that found that firefighters had a higher rate of cancers, including melanomas.

“I was like, ‘Wow. Really? How do I not know this?’??” Rine said.

Grace LeMasters, an epidemiologist and one of the lead researchers on the study, said firefighters face an increased risk for at least 10 cancers. She said firefighters should wear their masks, even during cleanup after a fire. And when they return to the station, they should scrub down to make sure they don’t leave anything on their skin. The same goes for their gear, LeMasters said.

“They are exposed to a soup of cancer-causing agents,” including soot, diesel exhaust, benzene and formaldehyde, LeMasters said.

Rine said he spreads the word because too many firefighters haven’t heard the message. During his presentation, he lists cancers that can affect firefighters as well as several safety procedures that could help lower the risk. He estimates that he has made 100 presentations to about 1,000 firefighters across the state in the past six months.

“You know who you are dealing with, and it’s not an easy audience,” Rine said.

Although he can’t fight fires, he is not on leave. Rine is executive assistant to the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67 in Columbus. The job allows him to travel to various departments.

Mike Little, chief of the Violet Township Fire Department, said he is working to get a second set of gear for firefighters and is pushing them to scrub themselves and their equipment after working at fire scenes.

“Cancer is an epidemic in the fire service, and we don’t want to be a part of it,” Little said.

Rine also wants the state to recognize that some cancers are caused by the job, which would allow firefighters to collect workers’ compensation and be eligible for pension funds. A bill has been introduced in the Ohio House to address the issue.

“My five children and my wife will have to go on,” Rine said. “That’s who this bill is for.”

Mark Rine said he simply wants firefighters to have a chance to retire. “I don’t want them to have to do what I do,” he said.

More articles relating to cancer in the fire service can be viewed by clicking HERE

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Cancer message for firefighters (more)

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It’s a tough anniversary for a family to mark. It’s two years since the passing of Miami-Dade Fire Captain Rafael Herrero.

“The rate of cancer we are seeing in our fire department is huge and that made us start looking at what could it be,” says Captain Shane Anderson.

Researchers said firefighters across South Florida are in a battle against cancer, including alarming numbers of thyroid, colon and brain cancer. Now all eyes are turning to the firefighters’ personal protective gear. In the spotlight is how to improve it, clean it and store it.

“We found that we were storing the gear wrong. Most everybody in the country was but what we found out is that two things were a big factor. The way this stuff is made. The seams that are in it. The glues that are used off gas. You want to protect the firefighter with gear that is going to help them in a dangerous environment. But you also want to make sure that we are storing it correctly so that the chemicals that are used don’t hurt them down the road as well, ” said Anderson.

… stored gear is now removed from all plastic packaging and boxing and shaded from artificial light. “We found out is that ultra violet light is one of the worst things for firefighter gear. So you deal with two things,” he added.

Ultimately responsible for armoring up the county’s firefighters is Chief Foy Jenkins. He is ever mindful that South Florida firefighters have only one set of personal protection gear a piece. If fires are back to back there may not be enough time to fully decontaminate the gear. Foy is crunching numbers to see if back up gear per firefighter can be purchased in the future.

The spotlight is now shifting to the personal protective hood, a potential catch-all for contaminants and carcinogens. [previously] the firefighters were issued only one. Now a second one will be available to them. “If they have a hood, they can come to support and they can get a new one. So they have two now,” said Anderson.

Reminders are everywhere that clean gear is the new normal. Fading is the culture of a soot-laden uniform being a badge of honor. “The guys wanted to look veteran.I understand that . I was one of those guys,”said Jenkins.

“I think there has definitely been a shift. I don’t think everybody buys into it yet … Yes I do believe there has been a shift in the dynamics of what we are talking about,” shared Keith Tyson who is a retired Miami Dade firefighter and cancer survivor. He is largely credited with bringing awareness to the risk of cancer in firehouse and after the firehouse.

“I don’t want anybody to go through what I have been through, what my brothers and sisters are going through.” Tyson recently returned from Boston where firefighters are adding up their cancer casualties.

“The bad news…some of the numbers where every three weeks a member was being diagnosed with some sort of severe type of cancer. The good news is they reached out to us,” Tyson said. “We developed a 90 minute program being taught to over 1,400 members of their department over the next two months and that is huge!”

They are lessons and legacies keeping alive the memory and mission of brothers and sisters not forgotten.

It appears those beloved lives were not lost in vain. Their stories helped to spearhead efforts that are resulting in more than $900 thousand being funneled by the state for pioneering research into links between firefighting and cancer. University of Miami researchers will be helming the project as firefighters from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are in the spotlight.

More posts about cancer in the fire service can be found HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

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Cancer message for firefighters (more)

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Cancer awareness in the fire service has risen to new levels. The slate of new studies connecting the increased incidence of certain cancers among firefighters, particularly at younger ages, is placing emphasis on a variety of new practices related to post-fire hygiene.

Among these is that turnout clothing is a continuing exposure to potential carcinogenic substances encountered during structure fires unless it is properly cleaned. That in itself is a significant challenge because many fire departments are simply not used to or prepared for cleaning turnout gear on a regular basis.

Even those departments that have the luxury of multiple sets of gear to rotate out after a fire often cannot perform cleaning at the frequency now being demanded. Other emerging procedures such as gross decontamination performed outside the fireground are being implemented to help reduce contamination and limited its transfer to the apparatus, fire station or an individual’s vehicle if used to transport the gear.

The fire service has a long way to go for implementing new hygienic procedures and philosophies; however, the directions being taken in several organizations are very promising.

Where we are
The cleaning of turnout clothing has evolved over the past two to three decades as fire departments have come to embrace the need to have regular cleaning. Work originated by several firefighter safety groups including FIERO, NAFER, CAFER, and SAFER back in the early 1990s led to the development of NFPA 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Structural Firefighting Protective Ensembles, which set cleaning requirements.

Those early experiences established parameters for how turnout clothing was cleaned, in terms of the procedures for handling, types of machines, detergent pH and temperatures used in washing and drying. Surprisingly, very little information has been added to the standard to further qualify the different cleaning processes.

This is despite that there have been very large changes in the laundering industry that we all observe whenever we go out to buy a new washer and dryer. Further, there are emerging new processes such as the use of ozone, carbon dioxide-based dry cleaning, and a variety of different machines and cleansing agents that are being touted for better removal of soils from turnout clothing.

Measurable process
The industry for proper cleaning of turnout clothing cannot properly advance until the metrics are in place to gauge the effectiveness of any particular process. The ability to measure and verify that cleaning has taken place and in particular the removal of contaminants is needed to ensure that all the existing and new practices work as expected.

Finally, some progress is being made in this area. The Fire Protection Research Foundation, which is associated with the National Fire Protection Association, formally launched a project in May to establish methods for verifying cleaning of turnout clothing and specifically show the removal of harmful contaminants.

While this effort may seem like a science project for chemistry majors, it is actually a relatively difficult problem.

Part of this problem stems from the fact that in any given fire, there can be thousands of different combustion products given the construction and contents of the structure. Some of these chemicals pose serious problems and others do not.

And since no two fires are alike, trying to look for certain chemicals can be confounded by the vast number present and, without a Star Trek tricorder, there is no universal method and instrument for their analysis.

Further complicating the matter is sampling the clothing. To precisely measure low levels of contaminants in clothing, pieces must be removed. And since the contamination is not uniform over the entire item, some logic has to be applied as to where to take the pieces from and then generalize the results for the overall item.

Most of the techniques that are applied by analytical laboratories are usually applied to soil or water samples to quantify environmental contaminants, some of the same substances that are carcinogens in fire smoke, but these methods are not entirely effective for testing turnout clothing.

The new project is based on developing a methodology that can be applied anywhere for assessing whether key fireground contaminants have been removed by whatever machine, cleaning agent or process.

For this to work, they must develop a means for contaminating clothing samples uniformly in the laboratory with a set of representative substances, inserting these samples into surrogate full clothing items and then washing the full clothing using whatever cleaning procedures are to be applied.

The previously contaminated material samples can then be removed from the clothing and analyzed for contamination levels to determine if the substances have been removed.

Replicating the fireground
The key part of this is to contaminate the material samples in the laboratory in a way that simulates how clothing is typically exposed — especially to the array of fire gas chemicals and carbon particles in smoke — rather than just simply soaking the material in a liquid chemical mixture.

To this end, the research foundation contractor has proposed using pellets comprised of known chemical substances and carbon and burning these pellets in a high-temperature furnace with the effluent swept over the material samples. A significant amount of validation work must be done to demonstrate that these procedures represent field contamination and also can be consistently applied to determine cleaning effectiveness.

If successful, specific cleaning equipment, agents and processes can be evaluated to determine which wash conditions are best at removing specific carcinogens or skin-absorption toxins. Just as important, differences in equipment type, wash temperature and detergent chemistry can be evaluated to identify the optimum conditions.

Having these procedures can bring us closer to an envisioned time when independent service providers can be qualified for having appropriate equipment and procedures to remove turnout clothing contamination in the same manner that these organizations are now verified for repair capabilities.

Collateral damage
One of the consequences of more frequent cleaning, even verified cleaning, is that turnout clothing will be subjected to more wear and tear that will likely shorten its service life. Although it seems difficult to accept, laundering can shorten the life of turnout clothing relatively rapidly and in some cases adversely lower its performance.

This means that not only must cleaning processes be verified for removing soils and contamination, they also must be evaluated to show that unusual clothing degradation does not occur when the cleaning process is applied regularly — more than once or twice a year.

Clearly, keeping clothes clean is not the overall answer for minimizing firefighter exposures to carcinogens. These exposures occur in a variety of different ways.

Still, by ensuring the removal of persistent contamination that is possibly linked to adverse health effects, at least one avenue of firefighter hygiene is dramatically improved.

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Cancer message for firefighters

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Fire Chief W. Kyd Dieterich with the Hagerstown Fire Department  doesn’t have a sense of smell, has difficulty talking and has trouble getting ready in the morning.

“I had squamous cell carcinoma in my larynx, so laryngeal cancer,” Dieterich said.

Kyd has worked in the City of Hagerstown for 35 years and was diagnosed with the cancer in 2012. He says over the past ten years it has been discovered that firefighters have been exposed to a high level of carcinogens on a continual basis.

“The mentality used to be that dirty, filthy turnout gear was a badge of honor, that you got in there and you got the job done. When in fact, we’re killing ourselves because cancer rates among firefighters are much higher than the rest of the population,” he said.

Kyd says the European fire service is way ahead of Americans when it comes to cancer prevention. He added they have decontamination stations on the fire trucks, and places like Hagerstown don’t.

“We need to change the culture of the way we think, the way we look at it from day one. The first day on the job, as far as I’m concerned, the very first lesson should be cancer prevention. That’s the only way we’re going to stop it,” Dieterich said.

Kyd joined a firefighter cancer support network in California to be a mentor to others diagnosed with similar types of cancer to what he has. He has simple advice to give to other firefighters.

“Wash your gear, wash your gear, wash your gear. When you’ve been exposed to smoke, carcinogens, things like that, get a shower, get it off your skin as fast as you can. Change your clothes as soon as you can. Mitigate the exposure as much as possible,” Dieterich said.

Chief Dieterich will be retiring at the end of the month.

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