CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV) -- Firefighters bravely put themselves at risk for others as part of their job.
image from Pixabay
No longer is a firefighter's soot-covered face a badge of honor. Over the years, studies show these risks can often last long after a firefighter has retired.
Though firefighters are covered in state-of-the-art protective gear, they have to be worried not just about the blazing flames, but also the little things that go undetected, like cancer.
In the U.S., cancer has caused 61 percent of firefighter deaths since 2002. Fire departments across the country are trying to change those statistics.
"There are a number of cancers that are considered to be job-related to the job of firefighter," said Douglas McGlothlan.
McGlothlan fought fires for more than 20 years and was diagnosed with cancer in 1994.
"Statistically, one in three within the normal public will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime," he explained.
Charlottesville, Va. Fire Chief Andrew Baxter said that today's structure fires are much more dangerous than they were 50 or 60 years ago because of the contents we all have in our houses.
"We understand and are willing to take the extreme risk to serve the community," said Baxter. "While they are doing that, we want to reduce their risk to the degree possible of acquiring cancer."
Fire departments around the country are taking steps toward better prevention.
"From the minute they get there and go inside to the minute they leave, we want them on SCBA air to protect their respiratory tract," explained Baxter.
Now firefighters go through steps to wash while still at the scene and even clean the fire truck out after they return. The gear they were wearing goes into an industrial washing machine made to do the job.
"They get carcinogens on their skins even when they wear their turn-out gear and protective equipment," Baxter said.
Not every firefighter will get cancer from job-related hazards. A study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows there is a connection between the occupation and cancer, but there are always other lifestyle and genetic factors that could also lead to the disease.
It is important for active and retired firefighters to inform their doctors of possible job-related health concerns.