[USA Today] Running toward burning buildings is a risk firefighters face daily. But the true cost of the job could appear years later.
Firefighters have higher rates of cancer than the rest of us, according to a recent study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Cancers of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems account for much of the reported cases, the study found.
Firefighters account for double the reported cases of mesothelioma, a rare cancer which targets the thin tissue that covers many internal organs.
The statistics reflect a sobering reality among firefighters in Washington state.
"He sticks the needle in there, pulls it out, five minutes later he says you have a squamous cell carcinoma in your neck, you have cancer," Lt. Adam Lamb said in an interview with KING-TV. Lamb endured 38 weeks of radiation and chemotherapy.
Firefighter Duane Inglin faced devastating news in January when doctors told him he had prostate cancer at age 47.
Lamb and Inglin were diagnosed with two different cancers. The common thread:flame-retardant chemicals designed to protect them from fire.
"We're losing too many firefighters, and we're talking about one a week and nationally almost daily that another firefighter is reported to have died from cancer," said Kelly Fox of the Washington State Council of Firefighters.
Kirkland Fire Capt. Bill Hoover, has been to so many funerals in recent years, he said, he has lost count.
"I think of a lot of people in my life, my fire life, and how they've met their end. And predominantly it's cancer," he said.
Hoover has had cancer appear twice. "You go to bed knowing there's a pretty good chance it's gonna come back again."
Removing toxins from products is not easy. A bill before the Washington state Senate to ban toxic flame retardants stalled in the chamber, so firefighters work to minimize their exposure.
Some fire stations have spare sets of gear to swap out. Others use specialized washing machines.
The study looked at more than 30 types of cancer. A second phase of the study will look into how exposure to certain chemicals might be linked to specific cancers.