DERIDDER, La. (KPLC) - Cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters, according to the International Association of Firefighters.
“In the fire service, the nature of the fire creates a lot of carcinogens, which can be related to cancer," DeRidder Fire Chief Kenneth Harlow said. "With that said, the exposure the firefighters receive during fighting these fires have a tendency to be increased.”
Harlow says he sees the health affects of the job firsthand.
“Over my career, and especially within the last few years, we’ve had I know of three different firefighters after employment through retirement and stuff, they have contracted cancer of some form and type," Harlow said. "We don’t really know if it was job related or not, but we can always assume, there may be some association with the job.”
A report shows while 30 years ago firefighters were mostly diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers, now many are faced with leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma; thought to be the case because firefighters are now fighting different types of blazes and can be exposed to harmful chemicals.
In 2010 the Centers for Disease Control tracked nearly 30,000 firefighters across the country and found higher rates of cancer than in the general population.
Chief Harlow says the department has implemented several things to help combat this growing trend, like limiting exposure for firefighters.
“Having a program that makes sure you are cleaning your gear and cleaning all the elements that are involved in the fire to limit that exposure are very very important," Harlow said. “The equipment itself is in the fire, so as far as the smoke contaminants and carcinogens that may be within the fire, that will stick to the equipment and everything that you use in the fire. So having a very good program to clean those items after a fire and limit that exposure. We have to have that process in place to protect our firefighters.”
The IAFF has created a firefighter cancer awareness and prevention training course, which helps describe the most prominent types of cancer that affect fire fighters, identify the top carcinogens in the fire fighting environment, review the major routes of exposure to carcinogens for fire fighters, and encourage behavior changes that can reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Harlow says it’s all about keeping public servants safe to keep the community safe.