Health Report: International Association of Firefighters spread occupational cancer awareness in January

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 4:06 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, as cancer is one of the largest health concerns facing these brave individuals.

According to Russell Dennis, IAFF Local 1324 Vice President and Firefighter for the City of Fairbanks, occupational cancer diagnoses are the largest cause of deaths in the line of duty, which was also confirmed by the CDC.

“Our job is to run into burning buildings, and the byproducts of combustion are highly cancerous,” Dennis explained. “Cancer is prevalent in the fire service. It is getting worse despite our efforts, and we have decided - as a service, our union, as a department, all across the country and in fact internationally - we have decided it’s something we need to tackle ourselves. We need to get the public to be aware, we need to get legislators to be aware and to take action so that our job isn’t causing us increased risk to cancer.”

While at risk for contracting all forms of cancer, two in particular are the most common for firefighters.

“Two of the biggest forms of cancer that seem to be a particular problem are breast cancer and testicular cancer,” Dennis elaborated. “Breast cancer is six times more prevalent in the fire service as compared to the general population. Testicular cancer is about twice as much a problem as the general population. Recently in the past five years, we’ve had two members have occupational cancer diagnoses.”

While fire service members have various forms of equipment to keep them safe, cancer cases have continued to rise according to Dennis.

“Our PPE, our personal protective equipment, bunker gear, face masks, our air supply, it’s all designed to keep us safe from the products of combustion as well as the general hazards of fighting fire - but it’s not enough,” he continued. “We have protocols in place designed to wash our gear. We got extractors in our DECON room. We’ve got procedures on scene, and even in the station and in our home lives that are designed to help us try to mitigate the risks of cancer. We’ve been doing that for awhile now, and the cancer rates are still going up. So we need to do more. One of the things that we really want to see is in the legislative process to get presumptive coverage for cancers that are likely due to workplace exposures.”

More information on the campaign for Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month can be found on the IAFF website.

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