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Preventing firefighter cancer: 10 takeaways from the fire service cancer symposium

10 Nov 2017 5:22 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Jennifer Brust, Senior Product Manager, Lexipol, an Official IPSA Corporate Supporter

In September 2017, fire service leaders came together for what could arguably be called the most important conference of the year. And yet, it had no hands-on training, no huge exhibit area where companies advertised their wares, and there were no bands marching through the streets.

But what was discussed over those two days has the potential to save many firefighter lives.

If you haven’t guessed it already, the event was the Fire Service Occupational Cancer Symposium in Phoenix. Sponsored by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the event featured dedicated men and women from the fire service, academia and allied organizations sharing their expertise, research and personal stories for the common mission to reduce firefighter risk of occupational cancer.

Reducing the risk of cancer

As one of over 500 attendees, I was anxious to hear the latest research and how it could be applied to create definitive risk-reduction solutions. What did I learn? There is tremendous research going on to get to some solutions, but there are a lot of unknowns and no silver bullet. There are, however, real actions that firefighters and fire departments can take now to reduce their risk. Below are 10 key takeaways:

  1. Don’t use tobacco—it’s still the #1 risk factor.
  2. Stay on air through overhaul (and put fire inspectors on air).
  3. Everyone in the hazard zone must be on air (think engineers). Research shows everyone in the hazard zone is exposed, not just the interior attack team.
  4. Rehab all crews. One research study demonstrated that the roof ventilation team had higher core body temperature increase than the interior attack team.
  5. Wash your hands before eating or using the bathroom on scene and shower after a fire.
  6. Wash your PPE, including hoods, helmets, boots and gloves.
  7. Keep anything from the fire scene out of the cab.
  8. Get an annual physical.
  9. Preplan for the day someone walks in with a diagnosis. Get connected with the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.
  10. Establish cancer prevention policies and procedures. Communicate the expectations and enforce them in training, on the fireground and at the station.

Continuing research on safety

In the next few years, as more research is conducted, we can expect to see more information regarding firefighter cancer statistics, PPE cleaning procedures, effectiveness of intervention methods and more.

Just as important is the need for real compassion and support for those affected with cancer. The event highlighted ways departments can provide support and resources that individuals, families and departments can draw on.

Firefighting is a job that calls the brave and big-hearted. Now that bravery is needed to be a change agent in your organization. Have the courage to stay on air and be proud of a clean helmet. It’s not just about making it home at the end of a shift—it’s about making it home at the end of your career.

Additional information

For more information about the research that was presented at the NFFF Fire Service Occupational Cancer Symposium, feel free to contact me or the NFFF. Lexipol’s Fire Policy Solutions and Daily Training Bulletin Service provides essential policies the support firefighter health and safety, including comprehensive PPE and respiratory protection policiesContact us today for more information or to request a free demo.

About the Author

Jen Brust is Lexipol’s Senior Product Manager for the Fire & EMS markets. Before joining Lexipol, she served as Senior Product Marketing Manager for Honeywell’s First Responder Products (formerly Morning Pride). Jen has a bachelor’s degrees in Chemistry from Albion College and a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Technological University.


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