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Cancer: Everyday Stuff Is Killing Us! (Gene Cobb)

Industry: Healthcare

Cobb aims to reduce rates of cancer among firemen

White Pine, TN (PRUnderground) January 13th, 2020

The most dangerous thing a firefighter faces when fighting a structure fire, isn’t the heat and flames, it’s the smoke!

Cancer is the leading source of firefighter’s line-of-duty deaths in the United States, and according to the International Association of Firefighters, around 60 percent of career firefighters will certainly die by cancer, not from other duties.

Firemen  in  the  1930’s-40’s  from  five  Nordic  countries  were  discovered  to  have  a  greater possibility of developing prostate cancer as well as skin cancer.  In 2013, researchers examining 30,000  firefighters  in  three  U.S.  cities  found  the  occupation  was  associated  with  “tiny  to moderate rises” for various cancers, especially in the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems. The  study  likewise  realized  that a likelihood of lung cancer diagnoses increased with every fire call.

The real problem is our “stuff” at home, work, our vehicles, etc.

We want personal belongings that are cheap and will make our lives relaxing and hassle-free. Yet, when they catch fire they can produce toxic gas. Consumer goods are produced utilizing cost-saving synthetic materials, therefore making fires extremely dangerous for today’s firefighter. In turn, cancer diagnoses are driven up, researchers believe by items made from a variety of burning chemicals.

Let’s go back to look over the past 50 years and think about what type of materials were used back then versus today. Back then real lumber, steel, and glass were used. Today, it’s mostly plastics, foams, and coatings in which every single one of these creates a toxic soup of carcinogens when they burn. Fire experts state that synthetic materials create hundreds of  times more smoke than organic ones. Your television, your child’s doll, the plastic food wrap  you use, your sofa, bed mattress…every one of them can produce toxic fumes while burning!

Everyone in your family is subject to these household chemicals every day, but the real threat comes when they catch fire. When fire retardants, as well as other substances, heat up and began to burn, they produce reactive oxygen species. A build up of reactive oxygen species in cells may cause damage to DNA and may cause cell death.

As a firefighter you protect yourself from the toxic heat and smoke by donning your turnout gear and SCBA, but keep in mind the coat as well as trousers do not secure with each other. So every active fire that you work smoke and fumes will ease its way up under the coat from your waistline clinging to the underlayer of your clothing, any exposed skin, neck, and potentially reaching to the top of your head. Also, quit pulling those protective hoods down and around your neck! A chief recently told me that five of his firefighters are now diagnosed with thyroid cancer!

On every fire call we wear that cumbersome SCBA to protect our respiratory system, yet we think nothing about removing the mask throughout the “overhaul” period. Yes, the fire  is mostly out but the embers are still smoldering, and we fall short to understand that this is not only the most hazardous times throughout the fire call, but the most unsafe time too.

Let’s all come to a consensus and agree if we intend to endure the occupation as a firefighter we must start now and stick to the standard operating guidelines that are developed to protect us. Develop a mindset that after every active fire you will perform a gross decontamination of your gear and equipment while still on-scene. You will not openly transport your soiled gear in the apparatus cab or the trunk of your personal vehicle. You will wash (machine wash) your turnout gear, and you will shower your body immediately!

It really comes down to the fact that, “tough-guy” photo of a firefighter with smeared soot on his face, is not so macho anymore. In today’s reality it is a hazardous one.

Don’t be a soot face. Stay clean, stay healthy, and stay safe!

About Gene Cobb

Gene Cobb is the current CEO (Chief Encouragement Officer) at the Volunteer Firefighter Alliance. His background spans over 35 years in fire/rescue. Gene has extensive experience in consulting on loss prevention and risk management and has presented personal safety and wellness programs to a variety of fire departments and corporations across the country. Today, he is on a mission to change the culture and reduce the number of yearly firefighter deaths due to cancer through the Firefighter Cancer Alliance, a program service of the Volunteer Firefighter Alliance. Gene is determined to save the lives of those that risk everything to save ours!

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