Increasing rates of cancer among firefighters has become a major issue facing all departments and municipalities. The NFPA and the IAFF are both conducting ongoing research and analysis into the problem. Incidents of throat, thyroid and even testicular cancer among firefighters are increasing at an alarming rate. For example in Miami Dade cancer is affecting one out of every 2 firefighters and this video from Boston’s FD shows what a serious issue this has become.
A major reason for the uptick in cancer instances has been the increasing complexity of chemicals firefighters are encountering during structure fires. Products used commonly today including modern furniture finishes, plastics and other chemicals are creating a deadly mixture. Once worn in a fire situation where toxins are present, turnout gear becomes contaminated. When a firefighter sweats, toxins enter the system through open pores where the gear comes in contact with the skin. This is particularly common in the neck and head region.
Contaminated gear is then worn for all calls, 95% of which aren’t fires. Firefighters naturally sweat when they work increasing opportunities for toxins to enter the system.
There is much research currently being done to develop products and other solutions to this. Examples include the H41 Hood from Fire-Dex featuring a Nano filter to catch particles up to .2 microns and these CeBeR Equipment Wipes designed to remove contaminants from equipment after use. Filtered hoods and other cancer preventing equipment will most likely become NFPA requirements in the future. You can learn more from this recent in depth report from the CDC on firefighting and cancer.
Update: a couple of other great resources if you’d like to learn more or help out are this white paper from the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and their website has plenty of great info as well.