Cancer Prevention at Natick Fire Department

Like most fire departments, the Natick (Massachusetts) Fire Department (NFD) struggles with increased rates of cancer in our firefighters. These are the steps we’re taking to protect our firefighters, and we share them in hopes that they’ll help other departments find the best approach to protect their firefighters.

Natick Fire Department is currently struggling with multiple former and current members’ cancer diagnoses. Unfortunately, in January of 2013, we lost a member to lung cancer after a long, courageous battle. With this loss, coupled with mounting evidence of increased rates of some cancers in firefighters, NFD is taking the challenge of proactively protecting its firefighters head on.

The department teamed with its local union to implement as many cancer prevention measures as possible. Two of the costlier measures include installing plymovents to remove diesel exhaust fumes and supplying all members with two sets of serviceable PPE. Although costly, both the department leadership and the local agree these were the top priorities.

In addition to the larger, costly improvements, the department and the local have implemented prevention measures that much easier to accomplish. For example, every piece of apparatus now has sanitary wipes—essentially baby wipes—that members are encouraged to use for gross decontamination on the fire scene.

One innovative prevention measure was the purchase of cancer-screening kits from CancerDogs.ca by the local. These kits are part of an experimental cancer-screening process, where specially trained dogs are used to detect cancer and potentially precancerous cells through the scents left behind on a surgical mask worn by firefighters. This method is experimental; there is no guarantee and false positive or false negative results are possible.

The newest addition, which is still a work in progress, is the purchase and installation of gear extractors for each of our stations. These extractors remove harmful contaminants from turnout gear after a fire. One extractor, suited for one set of gear at a time, was installed at our headquarters station. With additional extractors installed, crews will have ready access to clean their gear and place it back in service in less time.

NFD is one of many departments implementing prevention measures to keep its members safe. Some measures are expensive, and many are complex to research and accomplish. But in comparison, these costs don’t come close to the financial burden—or more importantly, the emotional burden—cancer imposes on firefighters and their families.

Natick Fire Department is doing its part. How about your department?

The Natick Fire Department is a medium-sized department, consisting of 85 members and belonging to Natick Firefighters Local 1707.

Natick is about 30 minutes outside of Boston and has about 32,000 residents. The population doubles each day due to the influx of workers servicing the high concentration of industry and businesses on Route 9, the major throughway.

NFD staffs four engines, one ladder company and one to two ambulances to support on average 5,000 calls per year. 

Natick is your typical suburban jurisdiction.

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