6 Ways to Reduce Cancer in the Fire Service

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 39% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer of any site at some point during their lifetime. Based upon the findings of the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health report, firefighters have a 9% elevated risk of cancer than that of the general population and a 14% elevation of mortality than the general population. Our service has begun making significant inroads with personal protective equipment enhancements, decontamination practices/skin wipes, hood exchanges, and clean cab design concepts, to name a few. However, we also know that an essential component of reducing our fire services losses from cancer is a comprehensive annual physical and early detection. Early detection of pre-cancer or stage one cancer typically is associated with extremely high survival rates compared with alter stage identification 

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  1. Full personal protective equipment throughout all phases of exposure: We know that the byproducts of combustion contain harmful toxins and carcinogens, and as such, we are exposed from the very incipient stages. As such, it is essential that personal protective equipment (PPE), including respiratory protection, are worn throughout operations on the fireground, including for investigators, as harmful off-gassing continues for some time.

  2. Begin to Decontaminate Processes Early: soon as a possible, PPE should be grossly decontaminated with soap and water, also utilizing a brush to remove contaminates and then removed and packaged in a sealed container placed on their cab exterior to limit off-gases. Skin decontamination should begin as soon as practical, given that with exertion and heat stress, absorption through the skin of toxins occurs rapidly. Wipes should be used liberally to thoroughly clean body areas where absorption occurs, such as head, neck, jaw, throat, underarms, and hands.

  3. Continue Decontamination: As soon as practical more fine and thorough decontamination should occur of the entire body with showering. Furthermore, all exposed gear should be cleaned at the early opportunity and exchanged, if available, for a clean set of gear.

  4. Decontamination of Cab frequently: The notion of “clean cab apparatus” is gaining momentum to limit cross-contamination of our tools and equipment with our members, thereby placing all equipment and gear in exterior departments. However, it is still essential to reduce cross-contamination risk to members by decontaminating SCBA, equipment, and the cab interior thoroughly removing potential carcinogenic debris.

  5. Off the Fireground Lifestyle Modifications: It is essential to that controlling modifiable risk factors also play a role in preventing many types of cancer. These include maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and blood glucose control, refraining from tobacco products, a healthy diet, limiting excessive alcohol intake, and protection from sun exposure.

  6. Obtain an Occupational Appropriate Annual Medical Exam: It is imperative that members receive an annual, occupationally appropriate physical exam that focuses on screening firefighters for the health risks they face. The IAFC Safety, Health & Survival Section created the Health Care Providers Guide to Firefighter Physicals as a starting point for both education as well as recommendations. The reality is that firefighters face certain unique health risk that members of the general population do not and thus required more rigorous screening for early detection and survival. In fact, we know that most cancers identified at the pre-cancerous stage or stage one (site of origin) have tremendously better outcomes for survival than later-stage cancers that have already spread beyond their primary site. It is crucial to get checked and be a survivor!

Obtain an Occupational Appropriate Annual Medical Exam: It is imperative that members receive an annual, occupationally appropriate physical exam that focuses on screening firefighters for the health risks they face. The IAFC Safety, Health & Survival Section created the Health Care Providers Guide to Firefighter Physicals as a starting point for both education as well as recommendations. The reality is that firefighters face certain unique health risk that members of the general population do not and thus required more rigorous screening for early detection and survival. In fact, we know that most cancers identified at the pre-cancerous stage or stage one (site of origin) have tremendously better outcomes for survival than later-stage cancers that have already spread beyond their primary site. It is crucial to get checked and be a survivor!

In addition to these steps make sure to check out these cancer prevention resources on the IAFC website. The key to being cancer-free is knowledge and the discipline apply that knowledge daily.

Chief Todd J. LeDuc, (Ret.), MS, CFO, FIFirE recently retired as assistant fire chief of Broward County, FL. After 30 years of service. He served as Chief Strategy Officer for Life Scan Wellness Centers, a national provider of comprehensive physicals and early-detection exams. He has served as a member of the International Association of Fire Chief’s Safety, Health & Survival Section for well over a decade and is currently Secretary of the Section. He is a peer reviewer for both professional credentialing and agency accreditation. He is the editor of the Fire Engineering book, Surviving the Fire Service, and serves on numerous advisory boards and publications.

 
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