In this year alone, two Phoenix firefighters died from what the department refers to as “occupational cancer.”
The Phoenix Fire Department says it is making changes to the department’s protocols and procedures in order to protect the men and women on the front lines, in light of the recent deaths.
“We have to go put fires out, but we have to be smarter about it now. There is no way to eliminate the danger completely, but we need to take better steps to protect our members,” Capt. Rob McDade with the Phoenix Fire Department said.
A major change can be found in the way that the department handles a firefighter’s turnout gear following a fire.
The process for cleaning uniforms is a five-hour process, as workers soak the gear for 45 minutes then wash, dry and inspect it.
“It starts with making sure we clean them extensively and we take them away from firefighters,” McDade said. “The old days of wearing a badge of honor and smelling like a firefighter, having your gear be dirty like my generation of firefighters, showed you worked hard, had a good fire, maybe had a save. That’s stupid, we need to get all that cleaned off. Clean turnouts should be the badge of honor that I’m being a smart firefighter,” McDade said.
Firefighters also now do an initial wash of their gear on-scene, when at a fire.
“Our folks come out and we immediately rinse them off, we have to start that process of getting the toxins off them,” McDade said.
Other implemented procedures include free cancer screenings for all firefighters at the Vincere Cancer Center.
“Early detection is what is important with cancer and now we have a system where our firefighters can get their blood drawn and a doctor is going to look at that blood and see if they have any of those markers for that early detection of cancer,” McDade said.
On a national level, the CDC has begun tracking cancer among firefighters to help get a better understanding of possible trends and determine if there’s a link between workplace exposures and cancer.
“If we have those numbers, they are going to tell us if we’re making a difference. We can’t just go, ‘Oh we have one firefighter, two firefighters.’ We need a national snapshot of what’s going on in firefighters and cancer and are we doing the best we can to protect them,” McDade said.