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January recognized as Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month

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Cancer is now the leading cause of death in firefighters. That's why January is designated as Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, which advocates for a push to reverse that trend and save firefighters' lives.

More than 60% of firefighters that are on the firefighters' memorial have passed away because of cancer. They're exposed to chemicals, carcinogens, toxins, and diseases every time they respond to an active fire.

Recently, state legislators have stepped in and adopted a bill that helps protect firefighters financially if they get cancer.

"It's going to help them throughout the process," says Baton Rouge Fire Department Chief Michael Kimble. "It's a big plus for us. It's a huge issue for our families to have to go through, get money, go to the hospital, and go to doctor visits. This helps cover that."

Several steps are taken to try and prevent being exposed to cancer, one of which is the thorough cleaning of trucks and equipment. Firefighters also immediately take cooler showers to wash off dirt and smoke that can be absorbed into the skin.

"It starts as soon as we come out of the fire," says Jake Morgan, one of the firefighters with BRFD. "As soon as we come out and take any of our gear off, we're focused on decontamination. We scrub our tools, scrub our gear before we get back on the fire truck. The fire truck is cleaner, therefore our stations and home life stay clean."

Airway and oral cancers are the two main cancers that firefighters are exposed to. They use special fire wipes to clean their exposed skin and gear of any carcinogens.

This month, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network will partner to deliver targeted education and best practices and resources to reduce the impact of cancer on firefighters.

The month-long campaign includes safety stand-downs, fact sheets, podcasts, survivor stories, and training briefs. These materials focus on the scope of the cancer problem, prevention, best practices, survivorship, leadership tactics to encourage prevention, and skills to help departments reduce their risk of occupational cancer.


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