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How Firefighters Can Reduce the Risk of Job-Related Cancer

October 7, 2015 | Dominique A. Penson

In 2010, the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health initiated a far-reaching study of firefighters and cancer. That study and others have consistently generated credible evidence that firefighters are at greater risk for developing a variety of cancers than the population at large. For example, the risk of a firefighter developing testicular cancer is 2.02 as great as the general population. The increased risk factors for multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are 1.53 and 1.51 respectively. These elevated risks exist despite what researchers call the “healthy worker effect.” A pool of firefighters who are selected for the job based on health and fitness, which they are expected to maintain, should actually have a lower risk of cancer, if not for occupational exposure.

In response to this emerging consensus regarding occupational cancer risk, The Firefighter Cancer Support Network invited a small group of experts to meet in Indianapolis and participate in a workshop to develop a white paper on cancer prevention in the fire service. The experts found two routes of entry for carcinogens most concerning: the lungs, especially when firefighters do not wear SCBA or remove it prematurely, and the skin, because exposure to heat can increase dermal absorption by as much as 400 percent for every five degree increase in skin temperature.

The FCSN white paper, “Taking Action Against Cancer in the Fire Service,” recommends several steps to reduce cancer risk among firefighters:

  • Use SCBA from initial attack to finish of overhaul. (Not wearing SCBA in both active and post-fire environments is the most dangerous voluntary activity in the fire service today.)
  • Do gross field decon of PPE to remove as much soot and particulates as possible.
  • Use Wet-Nap or baby wipes to remove as much soot as possible from head, neck, jaw, throat, underarms and hands immediately and while still on the scene.
  • Change your clothes and wash them immediately after a fire.
  • Shower thoroughly after a fire.
  • Clean your PPE, gloves, hood and helmet immediately after a fire.
  • Do not take contaminated clothes or PPE home or store it in your vehicle.
  • Decon fire apparatus interior after fires.
  • Keep bunker gear out of living and sleeping quarters.
  • Stop using tobacco products.
  • Use sunscreen or sun block.
  • Annual medical examinations for early detection

Our law firm has represented many firefighters who have developed job-related cancers, especially from response work at Ground Zero following 9/11. If you have questions about occupational illness, a knowledgeable attorney at Barasch & McGarry, P.C. can provide the assistance you need. To schedule a free consultation, call [ln::phone] or contact us online.

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