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Fight Cancer at your fire department

Firefighters are bombarded with toxins when they fight fires


The Roanoke Fire-EMS Department’s decon equipment includes: 5 gallon bucket, 25 feet of garden hose along with 2 1/2″ blind cap and garden spicket added to it, scrub brush, bottle of turnout gear washing spray, wet wipes, and individual packets of SPF 30 to be used while out training or during long-duration incidents.

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By Merritt Kearns, faculty member, Emergency and Disaster Management and Fire Science Management, American Military University and Matthew Dewhirst, Battalion Chief with the Roanoke, VA Fire-EMS Department

Like many other fire departments across the country, the Roanoke, Virginia Fire-EMS Department has been hit hard with cases of cancer among its 240 members. In the last six years, more than a dozen current and recently retired members have been diagnosed with cancer.

The connection between cancer and the fire service is undeniable as evidenced by a number of studies listed on the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. Compared to the general population, firefighters are at a much higher risk for the following cancers:

  • Testicular cancer (2.02 times greater risk)
  • Multiple myeloma (1.53 times greater risk)
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (1.51 times greater risk)
  • Skin cancer (1.39 times greater risk)
  • Prostate cancer (1.28 times greater risk)
  • Malignant melanoma (1.31 times great risk)
  • Brain cancer (1.31 times greater risk)
  • Colon cancer (1.21 times great risk)
  • Leukemia (1.14 times greater risk)
  • Breast cancer in women (preliminary study results from the San Francisco Fire Department)

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