TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH, firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnoses, and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared with the general U.S. population. To combat that the Tucson Fire Department is doing its part by studying TFD firefighters and tracking their health.
“We can help to mitigate those things that can cause cancer,” Darin Wallentine, Tucson Fire’s Deputy Chief of Health and Wellness said.
Tucson Fire hopes to do just that through a national cohort study it is a part of, in partnership with the University of Arizona and overseen by organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association, aimed at assessing firefighters' exposure to cancerous chemicals through tests of biological samples like blood or urine. The plan with the study is to renew it every three years and in total to have it last 30 years, that way fire departments can assess their firefighters' exposure to cancerous chemicals over time and see what changes need to be made.
TFD is one of multiple fire departments in the study, joining departments in the Palm Beach and Boston areas.
Overall, the study’s goal is to help to increase firefighters' health protection.
“There’s three big concerns," Wallentine said. "Cardiovascular health, mental health, and cancer. Cancer is on the rise and as a firefighter you are at 65 percent higher risk for cancer based on your choice of coming into this profession. So, there’s a lot of factors that come into play but we’re trying to find those factors that we can actually address and eliminate the cancer that occurs in the fire service.”
This isn’t the first time Tucson Fire has gotten involved in researching its firefighters risk of cancer. Over the past four years the department has been a part of a FEMA study to assess firefighters' cancer risk as well. Because of that study Wallentine, says the department has made changes to protect its firefighters. Some of those changes include making their firefighters now wash down now to get rid of contaminants they could ingest or that their skin could absorb, making their firefighters do rehab now when they come out of fire, and changing their firefighters hoods to a new one that stops cancerous particles but still is breathable.
Wallentine says that with the cohort study a few of the things they’re looking at assessing, to see if changes need to be made to better protect firefighters health, are what protection they can give to fire investigators, looking at training captains more closely since they get repeated exposure to cancerous chemicals, and looking at wildland firefighters' risk of cancer as well.