Fire-Rescue International (FRI) in Atlanta is just over a month away! One of the many essential topics that will be addressed is firefighter cancer and prevention. IAFC On Scene reached out to one of the presenters, Chief Steve Weissman, a 44-year veteran of the fire service, and asked him to give a brief synopsis of his presentation.
First responders are inundated with information, articles, and training on the hazards we face every day in the performance of our job. Studies indicate that it won't be long before cancer overtakes cardiac/heart attacks as the leading cause of firefighter deaths. I was aware of this as a firefighter. However, it never hit home with me until the day I received a phone call from my physician who informed me that I was diagnosed with cancer. Words couldn't describe my feelings and emotions. How do I tell my wife and children? Why me? Am I going to die and when?
As firefighters, we are at a higher risk to develop cancer. Based on NIOSH research, firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying over the general U.S. population. Every time you are exposed at a fire scene to carcinogens, you absorbed them into your body. We are all at risk!
Reducing risk takes a common-sense approach. Use SCBA throughout the incident. Decon your PPE to remove the toxins. Use wet wipes to clean your skin. Shower after returning from the fire. Get an annual medical examination. Document your exposures. It's not that difficult! As a fire chief, company officer, organizational leader, seasoned veteran or recruit; it’s incumbent upon leaders to institute a paradigm shift away from the days of contaminated, dirty, and sooty PPE. That “badge of honor” shall not exist anymore.
I was one of the fortunate ones. My cancer diagnosis was detected early. After treatment I'm now back to work. Many are not as fortunate. Listen to those affected by this disease. Learn from their experiences. Take heed from their message.
Chief Steve Weissman is retired from the Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department and is currently a deputy fire chief for the Stafford County (Virginia) Fire and Rescue Department and the Virginia assistant state director for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.
Make sure to register for FRI and attend Chief Weissman's Carcinogen Reduction & Cancer Prevention presentation on Wednesday, August 7, 8-9:30 AM ET in Room B402 at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Weissman’s presentation will provide attendees with life-changing information that could mitigate the cancer risk. The session will:
- Describe the most prominent types of cancer that affect firefighters
- Provide an overview the major routes of exposure to carcinogens for firefighters
- Discuss best practices for reducing carcinogen exposure in the station, before and after the fire, of which, some can be implemented at little to no cost
If you have not registered for FRI, make sure to do it today.
Steven Ilchishin is a Communications Director for the IAFC.