Rehab to prevent cancer

While more research is needed into the connection between firefighting and cancer, there are things we can do in rehab to keep it at bay


In August the Firefighter Cancer Support Network released the white paper "Taking Action: Cancer in the Fire Cancer." This is just the latest example of how cancer is a growing concern in the fire service.

The incidents of cancer are increasing and there appears to be a correlation between the work environment and the types of cancers that are prevalent in firefighters. The research is limited, and this white paper identifies more than 30 areas regarding cancer in the fire service where more research is needed.

What role does rehab have in cancer prevention?

Rehab does not stop once the incident is over and the units are back in quarters. Many of the concerns associated with cancer in the fire service can be addressed after the incident is over. Rehab can be the catalyst to reminding personnel to take the necessary precautions when they return to station.

One of the most critical elements in the rehab sector is to take precautions with cross contamination when it comes to cooling towels. Many times personnel will soak towels in cold water and place them on their necks or wipe their heads and other body areas. If the towels are put back in the bucket of water to re-cool for re-used, there is a strong possibility of contaminating others who use those towels.

Using disposable towels or using towels once then placing them in a laundry is the better practice. Any items personnel touch when they come into rehab can potentially contaminate others.

Food for thought
In previous columns, the topic of nutrition was discussed. The foods served at rehab and at regular meals need to be considered.

Cancer loves sugar and sugary snacks and drinks should not be part of what we distribute at rehab. Take the time to learn which foods can inhibit and which foods can encourage cancer growth.

The white paper stresses the lack of proper cleaning of bunker gear. Bunker gear retains the contaminants from the incident scene and remains on the material until it is properly cleaned; it needs to be cleaned after each incident.

This can be challenging if personnel only have one set of gear or run multiple calls during the shift. Practically speaking, personnel should avoid situations where they may potentially contaminate themselves and others.  

The days of dirty bunker gear is over. We need to adopt the culture of being proud of the cleanest gear, not the dirtiest.

Clean ride
In addition, the vehicles we ride in need to be clean and free of any contaminants. After all, if we have dirty gear in the vehicle, the contaminants will get on any surfaces or items the gear touches in the vehicles.

Remember this does not just pertain to our fire apparatus but our personal vehicles, too.

Rehab does not stop once the incident is over. It is time to expand our thinking on the role of rehab in the fire and emergency services. Personnel should be monitored for any conditions they may have exhibited on the incident scene.

Personal hygiene is another prime consideration. Fire personnel should shower after incidents that involved potential contaminants, especially any fire incidents.

Firefighters are being diagnosed with cancer at an alarming rate. The best way to cure cancer is to prevent it, and now is the time to prevent it. 

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