Rewriting the hollywood script cancer biggest risk to firefighters – herald-whig – electricity distribution costs

Quincy firefighter John Spencer, 54, suffered a fatal heart attack in 1991 while fighting a house fire. Michael Mapes, 35, and Walter Buckert, 22, both of Carthage, died in 1997 from severe burns after a tank exploded during a grain dryer fire. Jesse Ketchum, 33, of Downing, Mo., died in 2017 from injuries suffered after the fire truck he was driving to the scene of an outdoor field fire in Memphis overturned.

Recent studies have shown there is a correlation between cancer and a career in firefighting. It’s the toxic chemical composition in burning synthetic products and the inhalation and absorption of the smoke and soot that carries those carcinogens that put firefighters at risk.

Area fire departments are taking steps to mitigate the health risk for their personnel, but many firefighters remain concerned about developing cancer due to unsafe practices earlier in their careers and the fact that it’s impossible to avoid all health hazards while at the scene of a fire.

There was one large sleeping area in the fire station, and people would set their boots next to their beds before going to sleep. Once a fire was knocked out, uncomfortable breathing apparatuses came off, and the dirtier the gear, the more experienced a firefighter was.

“Cancer is something I’ve talked to my wife about,” said Coelho, who was a volunteer firefighter in Canton, Mo., for three years and whose wife was a volunteer firefighter in the city for about 10 years. “Things burn, but they burn incompletely, kind of like a cigarette.”

“Carpet, furniture, electronics, PVC, nylon, anything you can think of, those are carcinogenic compounds in high concentrations,” Coelho said. “They’re a witches brew of synthetics, and when they burn, they put out a lot of chemicals. Inhalation is where you run into problems.”

“For years heart attack risk was the big buzzword. You can’t discount that, but cancer’s definitely been the big buzzword the past five years,” Salrin said. “I think a lot of the recent research on this has stemmed from the people who lived through 9/11 but have died from its effects.”

A 2010 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study of nearly 30,000 firefighters from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco has been hailed by many as “groundbreaking” for the information it’s revealed on cancer incidence and a career in firefighting.

It shows that firefighters have a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths for digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers. In addition, there are twice as many firefighters with malignant mesothelioma, caused by asbestos, and the chance of a lung cancer diagnosis or death increases with the amount of time spent at fires.

“In the past we didn’t push as hard to get it clean. We’ve really bumped up our enforcement of it in the past two years,” Hampton said. “Our new policy dictates that immediately after a fire, as quickly as possible, get that stuff out to the washing machine and get it clean.”

“They’re more than twice the cost of the hoods we currently buy, so they’re a sizeable investment,” Hampton said. “That’s something we as a department are exploring right now to see if they do everything they’re claimed to do in order to justify the cost.”

Enochs can’t be sure, but he believes a 25-year career as a firefighter might be a factor. His crew sees the potential effect firefighting has had on Enochs’ health, and that’s a motivator for them to take safety precautions after a fire, Enochs said.

“I know guys are exhausted after a fire, but they need to get the trucks back in order, then get themselves in order,” he said. “We give them 24 hours to wash their gear. We have a washing machine at the station, so there’s no excuse to not get it clean.”

“We have discussed wipes and will be making a purchase. Our main emphasis is trying to get the firefighters to use the washers to launder their gear more frequently, especially the hoods that are worn over their heads and come into contact with face and neck,” Dobson said. “We are also trying to encourage the use of our gas meters to determine on overhaul (of a structure fire) if we have a safe atmosphere so that we can work without our breathing apparatus.”

“We’re aware of the danger, and we practice what we know and do what we’re able to do about it,” Fire Chief Steve Helenthal said. “We wear personal protection gear, keep it clean, keep it out of the home and have our firefighters wash their arms, face and anything else exposed.”

Volunteer fire chiefs add that finances play a part in keeping volunteers safe, and many are putting together a wish list of items to improve safety at the departments. Many also say that their respective cities do a good job in assisting them.

“Cancer is something etched in the back of your mind with the spotlight being on it like it is nowadays. As you come up to your end of career, when you think about some of the incidents you’ve been on and some of the things you’ve done, it does concern you,” Hampton said.

A bill that would require the development of a voluntary registry to collect data on cancer incidence among firefighters is awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature. At the state level, legislators recently have been taking steps to make it easier for firefighters and their families to get disability benefits for job-related cancers.

In Missouri, the burden of proof on whether a cancer is job related rests with firefighters, and because of that, few applications for benefits are granted without litigation. Two bills being considered this legislative session aim to shift the burden of proof.

Rep. Shane Roden, R-Cedar Hill, has sponsored House Bill 1641, and if passed, would presume cancer is job related when diagnosed in a paid firefighter with at least five years of hazardous duty or a volunteer firefighter with at least 10 years of hazardous duty. The bill adds that cancer would meet the definition of occupational disease and would be compensable.

Similarly, O’Fallon Republican Rep. Nick Schroer’s House Bill 1647 would put the burden of proof on a fire department to show that an employee did not contract cancer from the job. The proposal by Schroer says cancer can be presumed as an occupational disease if a paid or volunteer firefighter has at least five years of hazardous duty.