Posts Tagged Firefighter Cancer Support Network

Of interest … Cancer in the Fire Service

Excerpts from

DetecTogether, a non-profit dedicated to promoting early cancer detection and prevention, released a national education campaign targeting firefighters. 

The campaign is informed by data from the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, which suggests that occupational cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in the fire service and firefighters are 14% more likely to die from cancer than the general population.

Despite these grim statistics, DetecTogether’s campaign makes light of the situation by showcasing the hidden musical talents and dance moves of firefighters. In center view is Jason Patton, a firefighter and paramedic whose Fire Department Chronicles series has nearly 2 million followers on social media, accompanied by other Fire Department of New York (FDNY) members. The videos were filmed at the FDNY training academy on Randall’s Island.

“Our jobs are incredibly serious,” Patton said. “Lives are on the line. So, between jobs, while we’re at the firehouse, we like to lighten things up. And that’s exactly what DetecTogether’s videos do: using comedy to get firefighters taking action against cancer.”

The PSA also introduces firefighters to DetecTogether’s simple roadmap to early cancer detection, called ‘3 Steps Detect.‘ The organization describes the process as:

  1. Know Your Great: know what ‘great’ feels like for your personal health
  2. Use the 2-Week Rule: seek medical attention for persistent subtle health changes lasting two weeks
  3. Share With Your Doctor: share changes in your health, even if they are uncomfortable or embarrassing


The second film also leverages humor to spread awareness, as Patton picks on his fellow firefighter, O’Malley, and holds a dummy:

The organization tapped a Chicago-based ad agency to ideate and develop the campaign, which refreshes its existing ‘Response Time Matters’ campaign

The campaign was made possible with additional support from EMW-2021-FP-00573,1A Auto, Last Call Foundation, Powertech Controls, the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY), Firefighter Cancer Support Network, and the Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Research.


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Cancer in the fire service (more)

Excerpts from the

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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NFFF video about firefighter cancer

This from Dave Statter:

Check out this message about firefighter cancer from Byran Frieders. Frieders, a battalion chief in San Gabriel, California and president of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, makes the case that fire officers must provide the leadership that will help prevent cancer among firefighters. Frieders spoke at the National Fallen Firefighters Occupational Cancer in the Fire Service Strategy Meeting in Washington, DC January 13-15, 2015. Let us know if you have any questions.

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