Firefighting is among the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. On a regular basis, firefighters are at risk of injury or illness due to extreme heat, unstable structures and overexertion. However, this month, it is their increased risk of developing cancer that groups want us to be aware of.
January is Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month, which means that now is a good time to discuss the reasons behind these risks and what we can do to support firefighters.
Reasons behind the risk
There are several reasons behind the increased risk of developing cancer as a firefighter, but perhaps the most common is the regular exposure to carcinogens.
For instance, when firefighters respond to a building fire, they are in danger of exposure to airborne chemicals, including:
- Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
- Sulfuric acid
Significant or ongoing exposure to these chemicals through skin contact or breathing them in can lead to several types of cancer. Some of the most common types affecting firefighters include:
- Lung cancer
- Skin cancer
- Blood cancer
- Kidney cancer
After a career of fighting fires and saving lives, too many people in this occupation wind up fighting for their own lives.
The importance of awareness
Tragically, cancer accounts for 74% of line-of-duty firefighting deaths. By raising awareness of the risks these workers face, groups like the Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) and The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) hope to generate legislative support, improve prevention resources and make cultural changes in the industry to protect firefighters.
Firefighting is a high-risk occupation, and those who suffer a devastating illness as a result of harmful exposure or dangerous conditions deserve support as they cope with a difficult diagnosis.