The hidden killer: Boston FD confronts cancer risks

“Boston’s Bravest: Facing A Hidden Killer” takes an in-depth look at why so many firefighters are succumbing to occupational cancer

By FireRescue1 Staff

BOSTON — Over the last 28 years, more than 190 Boston firefighters have died from occupational cancer. Each firefighter is honored on a memorial wall inside the Boston Fire Department Headquarters.

This week, local Fox affiliate Boston 25 took an in-depth look at why so many Boston firefighters are dying from exposure to carcinogens.

Anchor Blair Miller spent months talking to rookie and veteran firefighters, along with Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn and Mayor Marty Walsh for the powerful special "Boston's Bravest: Facing a Hidden Killer."

“Boston firefighters and their families allowed us to witness their journeys and see their battles in the rawest way possible,” Miller said.

The report features Boston firefighter Glenn Preston who was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. After feeling low on energy and winded, he went in for tests, where doctors discovered a mass in his chest.

“All I want to do is live, beat this, be able to walk my daughters down the aisle. Not be in a box. I want to get back to work, be a fireman again. I want to get back with my crew, my guys,” Preston said.  


When asked why Boston seems to have a higher firefighter cancer rate than other cities, Fire Commissioner Finn said he thinks the city took too long to address the issue.

He added that a number of changes are underway to save lives, including:

  • Firefighters now have two sets of gear; a back-up set in case one needs to be washed
  • New washers to remove contaminants from gear and separate, enclosed areas for the gear to dry
  • Air tanks with a larger capacity so firefighters don’t have to take them off as soon

One of the most significant changes includes taking blood samples from new recruits on an annual basis, to analyze for potential cancer signs. The department has also released three videos on the dangers of occupational cancer:




 “Hopefully this thing plateaus and starts declining,” Finn said. “That's the goal. I think the changes that we're making will impact the younger generation. I think the younger guys, even those with less than 10 years on the job, we can make a difference in their lives.”

Watch the one-hour special at Boston 25 News.


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