January is Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month and the Alberta Fire Fighters Association (AFFA) is raising awareness about what they see as the single greatest danger they face protecting lives and property.
This month AFFA is highlighting the toll Cancer has taken on members of the profession. The association is sharing information about how fire fighters can reduce their risks of contracting one of the many cancers scientifically linked to fire fighting.
“Cancer is an epidemic in the fire service. It’s the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among Alberta firefighters, as it is across Canada,” said AFFA President and Calgary fire fighter Matt Osborne. “Fire fighters are at an increased risk of cancer due to the toxic nature of our workplace, where burning plastics and other materials found in furniture and other household products combine to create a toxic soup that exposes firefighters to millions of different and unknown and cancer-causing chemicals.”
AFFA says studies confirm fire fighters experience certain cancers, including brain, bladder kidney and colorectal cancers, leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, at a statistically higher rate than other workers. Additionally, they are more prone to reproductive cancers in both male and female fire fighters.
International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) data shows 52 full-time Alberta fire fighters died from recognized occupational cancers, covered by WCB, in the past 10 years.
Alberta has had legislation since 2003 that presumes certain cancers and other diseases are occupational when contracted by firefighters with a specified number of years on the job, which facilitates the workers’ compensation process. While Alberta currently recognizes 16 different types of cancers as occupational among firefighters, Osborne says there’s room on the list for even more cancers as science confirms their link to the profession.
Osborne says those IAFF numbers do not factor in the significant number of Alberta fire fighters who died from cancer but were not covered by WCB benefits.
“Fire fighters are proud to serve and protect their fellow citizens, and we enter the profession knowing its many dangers including statistically higher rates of certain cancers,” he said. “But we’re also committed to reducing the terrible toll cancer has taken on our profession.”
AFFA and its affiliates are using social media this month to spread awareness about cancer and firefighting. They encourage Fire hall discussions about cancer and prevention strategies.