Cancer Fire/emergency medical services Workplace exposures

New: 11 best practices for lowering firefighter cancer risk

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Firefighter deaths -- Sep13

Photo: Jerry Sharp

Dallas — A recent report from the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Volunteer and Combination Officers Section and the National Volunteer Fire Council details 11 best practices for minimizing cancer risk among firefighters.

According to NIOSH research, nearly 30,000 firefighters who participated in a study between 2010 and 2015 had higher rates of digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancer than the general population. They also had nearly twice as many cases of malignant mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer triggered by asbestos exposure.

The Lavender Ribbon Report, released Aug. 9, expands on a previously released poster outlining the best practices. It is intended to “provide specific guidance on how to adopt these actions into the everyday culture of fire departments.” 

Recommendations include:

  • Wear full personal protective equipment throughout the duration of incidents, including self-contained breathing apparatus during salvage and overhaul operations.
  • Change and wash clothes as soon as possible after exposure to products of combustion or other contaminants. Isolate used clothes in a trash bag if washing facilities are not immediately available.
  • Shower as soon as possible after exposure to products of combustion or other contaminants, ideally within one hour.
  • Get an annual physical.
  • Refrain from using tobacco products.
  • Include fully documented fire or chemical exposures on incident reports and personal exposure reports.

“We call upon fire service leaders and all personnel to make cancer prevention a priority in your department,” Chief James Seavey Sr., report co-author, IAFC VCOS Cancer Committee chair and cancer survivor, said in a press release. “We owe it to each firefighter, to their families, and to the community to take every step necessary to keep our firefighters healthy and to ensure they come home safely. Together we can stop firefighter occupational cancer.”

In July, President Donald Trump signed into law the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (HR 931), bipartisan legislation to create and maintain a voluntary registry intended to improve research into firefighters’ risk of cancer.

On Aug. 23, the Senate passed an amendment to its “minibus” appropriations bill for the departments of defense, labor, health and human services, education and their related agencies, which would provide $1 million to fund the registry.

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