Ky. firefighter dies of occupational cancer

Retired battalion chief Mitch Christian served with the Ashland Fire Department for 25 years

By Henry Culvyhouse
The Daily Independent

ASHLAND — An Ashland firefighter died on Monday morning after years of battling prostate cancer. His death will be the first in the city to be considered "a death in the line of duty" due to the carcinogens to which he was exposed.

Mitch Christian, a retired battalion chief, served the Ashland Fire Department for 25 years before taking retirement 2020. According to Capt. Richard Carr, president of the fireman's local, Christian was diagnosed in 2019 with prostate cancer.

"He actually went back to work for a while, but then COVID hit, so he had to retire," Carr said. "He actually thought he was getting better, but then things took a turn."

According to Carr, due to the chemicals released when structures are burning, firefighters are much more likely to incur certain kinds of cancers. Firefighters are 28% more likely to develop prostate cancer, while risk of testicular cancer is 102% higher than the general population, according to Carr.

But it's not just the smoke increasing cancer risk for firefighters. The equipment used by the fire service contain PFAS.

"We need this to protect ourselves, but it's also causing cancer," he said.

Pritchard's death will be the first recorded as a "presumptive death" in the AFD, meaning it will be treated for benefit purposes just like a death in the line of duty.

The current statutes in Kentucky recognize a death in the line of duty as a result of cancer if a firefighter served more than five years in the service, died when he or she was less than 65 years of age, remained tobacco-free for a period of 10 years prior to the diagnosis and was diagnosed within 10 years of leaving the fire service.

Cancers recognized under Kentucky law include prostate, brain, bladder, skin, cervical, testicular and liver, among others.

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Carr said the fight to have cancer recognized as a result of time spent in the fire service was long and many years in the making in Frankfort. The law was passed in 2016.

"It took many, many years to get that passed down state and it's still a battle in this country," he said. "There's other states that don't recognize it, despite the scientific evidence showing it's an issue."

Carr said at least two other deaths, prior to the passage of that law, would probably be classified as such had that been in effect.


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