RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A new report out by the World Health Organization shows what many of us already knew — being a firefighter is a dangerous career.
But it’s more than just flames that firefighters are battling.
“We’ve known for a long time that there has been a very strong link between cancer and the fire service,” said Travis McGaha with the North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance.
The new report says that carcinogens firefighters are exposed to on the job can lead to higher rates of cancer among them compared to the general population.
In Raleigh, Fire Chief Herbert Griffin says he’s aware of the risk, but his team takes steps to protect themselves, including giving each firefighter two sets of gear, plus adding new initiatives this year.
“We’re offering ultrasound body scans this year voluntarily for our members, this is pre-screening for early detection of cancer,” Griffin said.
The Raleigh Fire Department also does what’s called “decon” after leaving a fire scene. It’s a method of protecting firefighters that the North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance helped develop.
“It covers things such as washing your gear while you’re still on scene before you even get into the truck, how to properly bag up and handle contaminated gear,” McGaha said.
But it’s not just a local issue. The North Carolina state budget allocates $15 million for a firefighter cancer benefit pilot program, meant to help workers impacted by the disease.
But Griffin says it goes beyond the money.
“Education is the primary part,” he said. “If you educate firefighters on reducing the risk of cancer, that goes a long way.”
With funding and education going hand in hand, Griffin says departments can keep first responders safe so they can in turn keep the community safe.