Do Firefighters Have a Higher Chance of Developing Cancer?

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Written By DanielHaldeman

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As a firefighter, you are constantly in physical danger. For instance, you can get hurt on duty or get exposed to toxic chemicals. Either way, firefighting is a noble yet life-threatening profession.

One of the most significant downsides of being a firefighter is developing occupational cancer in the line of duty. In 2022, approximately 75% of the names on the Fallen Firefighter Memorial Wall passed away due to cancer. Moreover, the cancer rate in firefighters is 1.6 times higher than in general.

People are slowly becoming aware of this. In Eastern Carolina, the community raised awareness using a BBQ fundraiser dedicated to retired firefighter Jack Mozingo. He is battling a rare cancer that has now spread to his bones, colon, thyroid, and lungs. This fundraiser aimed to help cover the travel and medical bills for his treatment in New York.

Do you want to know more about firefighting’s cancer risks? Then, in this blog, we will discuss the influences, reasons, and prevention methods.

Why Do Firefighters Develop Cancer?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most firefighting settings contain hazardous and complex substances. For example, the aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) used for class B fuel fires contains per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

PFAS is a carcinogenic and synthetic ‘forever chemical’ that remains indefinitely in the human body and nature. Hence, prolonged exposure to AFFF caused firefighters to develop different kinds of cancer, especially testicular cancer. This toxic fire extinguisher also causes fertility issues and birth defects in women.

Many believe the manufacturers knew but failed to warn the firefighters about the extreme PFAS content in AFFF. As a result, the victims filed a firefighting foam lawsuit. Any firefighter who developed cancer after exposure to AFFF can file this lawsuit.

According to TorHoerman Law, the lawsuit aims to offer compensation for medical bills, lost wages, permanent disability, and more. Lawyers suggest having proper proof linking AFFF exposure to your cancer.

Other than PFAS exposure, firefighters come in contact with hundreds of chemicals, vapors, particulates, and gasses. According to the American Cancer Society, firefighters get toxic exposure to arsenic, asbestos, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, and more. Some firefighters working on military bases can get exposed to radioactive waste, silica, or sulphuric acid.

Exposure to all these elements leads to various types of cancer. Other evidence suggests that firefighters on the night shift have a higher risk of disrupting normal circadian rhythms.

What Influences a Firefighter’s Cancer Risk?

Usually, firefighters develop a cancer risk after breathing, ingesting, or coming into skin contact with toxic elements. However, the intensity of the exposure will depend on various factors, like:

  • Your work schedule and time spent on the job over the years
  • Types and the number of times you were exposed
  • The protective gear and equipment types worn during operations
  • Your physical health and genetic susceptibility
  • Lifestyle choices like substance abuse or smoking

Furthermore, the influences become more complex when the heat impacts the chemical mixtures in the air. Usually, cancer takes decades to develop. Hence, there might not be sufficient evidence to link an exposure time frame for this disease.

Are There Cancer Prevention Methods Available for Firefighters?

Fire service personnel should educate new firefighters about safe work practices through training. Hence, you must follow these basic firefighting safety precautions to avoid harmful chemical exposure. Some of them include the following:

  • Adequate cleaning of the protective clothing to stop chemical cross-contamination
  • Reducing skin contact with contaminated elements by wearing PPE kits and breathing apparatus
  • Cleaning your equipment and taking a bath after every operation will help reduce chemical build-up
  • Use fluorine-free, dry chemical agents or C6 firefighting foam to deal with fuel fires instead of AFFF

You can get disability benefits if the law recognizes your cancer as occupationally related. Go for annual checkups and talk to your doctor about potential exposures. Additionally, you must follow a healthy lifestyle and work out every day. These tips will help reduce chemical exposure and increase cancer awareness among firefighters.

The Bottom Line

In America, more than 1,041,200 firefighters are willing to risk their lives to save civilians. Among them, two-thirds of firefighters develop cancer. For many firefighters battling cancer, there are ways to cope and live a healthy life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the first thing to do is understand your diagnosis and prognosis. Then, ask questions about the treatment, tests, side effects, etc. Consequently, you must inform your family and join a support group for firefighters battling cancer.

Irrespective of the treatments, cancer patients should maintain a healthy lifestyle. Remember, you do not have to do this alone.

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