ROCHESTER, Minn. - Firefighters across the nations face staggering statistics when it comes to cancer. According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, firefighters are 9% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer and 14% more likely to die from cancer than the rest of the U.S. population. Of the men and women who died in the line of duty in 2017, 74% of those deaths were due to cancer.
"While they can't say this is exactly where this cancer came from, they can't do that at a cellular level, what we can say is we're being exposed to this more so than the general population and the numbers are proving it," explains RFD Captain Caleb Feine.
As homes are more commonly built with synthetic and flame retardant materials and furniture, which release toxic gases when burnt, firefighters are increasingly exposed to toxins that can kill them more slowly than flames can.
To fight back against cancer, the Rochester Fire Department is having refresher training sessions to remind their firefighters of techniques to limit their exposure. Measures to minimize the carcinogens they breathe in, or come into contact with on their skin, eyes, and mouths, include wearing their self-contained breathing apparatuses as much as possible while fighting a fire; taking a shower within an hour of returning from a fire call; exercising or stepping into a sauna to sweat out toxins; and washing all of their gear thoroughly to get the cancer-causing grime off. "We're very fortunate we have 2 sets of gear which allows us to wash a dirty set and still have another dry set," adds Feine.
The Rochester Fire Department is continuously working to not only keep the public safe in an emergency, but also protecting their crews from the long-term effects of the deadly job. "Firefighting is an inherently dangerous job. We have the tools to make this job safer and to keep ourselves safe and that's what we need to focus on. Yes we're in a dangerous atmosphere, but we can do it safer," says Captain Feine.