New cancer test giving hope to Southern Arizona firefighters

Firefighters in Southern Arizona have a new defense on their side.
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 5:14 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Firefighters in Southern Arizona have a new defense on their side. A new test that detects different types of cancers is now being offered to firefighters in Tucson.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than the average American.

According to Mike McKendrick, Chairman of the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation, the new test is giving a small glimpse of hope to those who run into dangerous situations.

“It’s inevitable, McKendrick said. “I’m going to get cancer.”

McKendrick spent most of his life running toward flames never thinking twice about the hidden dangers. This is one of the many reasons the new Galleri Multi-Cancer Early-Detection Blood Test is huge for career firefighters like McKendrick.

“My biological father died when I was six of lung cancer,” McKendrick tells 13 News. “My stepdad died of cancer and my brother who is three years younger than me was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.”

The Galleri Test can detect 50 different types of cancers by looking for the disease inside a person’s DNA.

McKendrick said up until now, there have been very few options for firefighters, which is why many of these first responders get their diagnoses too late.

Captain Tyler Berndt with the Tucson Fire Department says this is a real problem many firefighters face.

Another firefighter with TFD said he signed up for the test as soon as he could because he wants the peace of mind the test offers. Especially since he had a prior skin cancer diagnosis.

“It’s a chance and opportunity that we have to screen some of these firefighters,” Berndt said. “We can maybe catch some of these cancers early in their career and hopefully before the cancer processes or spreads.”

According to Berndt, almost everyone in the Tucson Fire Department knows someone who has either been diagnosed or died of cancer. The problem isn’t just seen here in Southern Arizona but nationwide.

“It’s an unfortunate part of this job,” Berndt said. “One of my best friends that I have worked with almost 17 years on this fire department just told me a couple of weeks ago he does have cancer.”

Mckendrick hopes to have the Galleri Test available for firefighters during their yearly wellness check exams because early detection leads to early treatment, which means more lives are saved.

“First responders across the board are assets to a community,” McKendrick said. “We need to treat our firefighters like they are assets and a benefit to the community.”

Right now, the foundation can only test 150 firefighters. However, Mckendrick said the goal is to get every firefighter in Southern Arizona tested.

If you would like to support these tests, McKendrick says it’s best to donate items to the Safe Shift Thrift Store, or online.

According to Mckendrick, all funds collected at the thrift store go directly towards the health of first responders in Southern Arizona.

In addition, some funds from the annual Fiesta Day Los Bomberos, which will be held in September, go towards testing for firefighters.