Tucson Fire Department works to raise awareness, lower cancer risk among firefighters
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Tucson Fire Department is working to raise awareness and implement cutting-edge safety protocols to lower cancer statistics among firefighters.
TFD is at the center of a research study that has been conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the University of Miami and experts from the University of Arizona.
Darin Wallentine, Deputy Chief for Safety and Wellness Division at TFD, said the department has been working alongside researchers since 2015 to provide input on the cancer epidemic from the frontlines.
“Over the course of the last seven years we’ve learned a lot about what we can do to protect our firefighters,” Wallentine said. “Not only on the fire ground but in the fire station itself.”
Studies have shown firefighters are nine percent more likely to develop cancer and that the disease caused 66% of firefighter line-of-duty deaths from 2002 to 2019.
Wallentine said TFD is working with vendors to create solutions and safety protocols to help limit exposure to hazardous materials which could lead to cancer.
“We’re working to better build turnouts, the firefighting gear that we give to our firefighters,” Wallentine said. “We’re also implementing a new air pack system currently, and those air packs are vital to our firefighters, to protect their respiratory tract from the inhalation exposure that could ultimately occur on the fire scene.”
Wallentine said the department is also being smarter when decontaminating fire scenes, implementing a “shower within an hour” protocol to remove contaminates once firefighters return to the station.
While these changes are working to lower the risk for firefighters, Wallentine said it’s that risk that could be keeping people from signing up for the job.
“I believe that firefighters and new firefighters specifically are considering the risks more so today than they ever have, just because they do see that firefighters do have a higher risk of cancer. But we are giving them the tools to try and prevent that from happening,” Wallentine said.
By raising awareness, TFD has been able to provide firefighters with better gear, better policies and ultimately cover costs with presumptive cancer legislation if they get a cancer diagnosis. Wallentine said they’ve improved cancer screening as well, so when firefighters go for their annual physical, they get state-of-the-art cancer screenings so they can try to catch a diagnosis as early as possible.
“They’re getting this cancer screening as more of an up-front and a proactive approach in their stage of cancer, if in fact it’s there,” Wallentine said. “That way we can help take care of them early and protect the firefighters, their kids and their future with their grandkids, so they can live a long life and make it to retirement and enjoy every bit of that retirement.”
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