Seventy percent of firefighter deaths in 2016 is caused by cancer, according to the Firefighters Support Network, making cancer the number one killer of firefighters in the United States right now.
"They don't understand that one in three firefighters are going to be diagnosed with cancer," explains Heather Mazurkiewicz of the Firefighter Support Network.
South Walton Fire Chief Rick Talbert in Florida wants his firefighters to know how to lower those risks.
"We're faced with many hazards. The toxic chemicals of byproducts we are faced with in the various environments in emergencies we respond to, and we know, we are very well aware, that we are susceptible to different types of cancers. So the more we can do on the front end to educate our personnel as much as possible to make sure they are safe at the end of their shift," said Talbert.
"So, we're talking to the firefighters about things they can do to take responsibility and be the ones to change the culture in the fire service and how they can protect themselves from ever having to hear those words 'You have cancer,'" said Mazurkiewicz.
The most direct cause is due to the toxins in the smoke that seep into their gear and skin.
"We show them these statistics, and then we tell them what they can do. By detoxing on scene and making sure we're using wipes to wipe our skin off to get these toxins off," said Mazurkiewicz.
From brain cancer and skin cancer to testicular and cervical cancer and even non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, firefighters seem to be more susceptible to these specific kinds of cancers.
"I'm approaching my 40th year in the fire service, and I've lost some very close friends to cancer, so this strikes a chord and hits home," said Talbert. "It's personal, and I think that's what brings attention to what's going on and just gives us that much more resolve to make sure we do what we can to fight that and prevent as much as we can."
The Washington State Council of Fire Fighters has produced a valuable resource tool to educate firefighters and staff about how to safeguard against exposure to carcinogens. The “Healthy In Healthy Out” flipbook is available at the Washington State Council of Firefighters support website.