The link between firefighting and cancer

You put your life on the line all the time when you make your living in firefighting, but some of the work-related hazards you face are not immediately apparent. While working in burning buildings and other dangerous environments presents obvious dangers, you also run the risk of developing work-related cancer following prolonged exposure to hazardous substances. In fact, cancer may be the number one health risk for people in your occupation.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, you face a significantly higher risk of developing career-related cancer than others in the American workforce.

By the numbers

Research shows that your chance of receiving a cancer diagnosis due to something in your work environment is 9% higher than it is for the rest of the nation. Furthermore, you are also 14% more likely than members of the general population to succumb to cancer. While you may not reasonably be able to eliminate your risk of developing work-related cancer in a firefighting job, there are a number of measures to take that may reduce it.

Recommended safety measures

Fighting fires may expose you to certain cancer-causing contaminants, including asbestos, among others. These substances tend to build up on your personal protective equipment while you are on the job. You must promptly and thoroughly clean your equipment after each use to reduce the risk of exposing yourself to these contaminants.

While cleaning your personal protective equipment is an important safety step, so, too, is thoroughly cleaning other gear used in firefighting efforts. Hand tools, firehoses and related equipment can cause cross-contamination, spreading hazardous substances to everything they come in contact with.

Experts are unsure whether the current procedures adequately remove carcinogens. Researchers continue to learn more about heightened cancer and other risks faced by today’s firefighters. As they do so, they continue to update and enhance recommended safety protocols in an effort to keep you and your department safe.