RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Firefighters in North Carolina have new resources today to help them recognize their own risk of cancer in the profession.
They say they have a lot of tools helping them, including safer gear and washing methods, but the one thing they’re lacking here in Raleigh is cancer screenings.
One firefighter in Raleigh who survived cancer says that’s the most important thing.
“You’ll know when something is out of the ordinary, if you’re pretty in touch with yourself and you’re honest about it, you’ll know when there’s something wrong,” Nathan Burgess said.
He served with the Raleigh Fire Department for about 20 years before being diagnosed with throat cancer last year. He’s just one of many men and women the department has in mind when implementing new systems to keep those first responders safe.
“We have particulate blocking hoods that block carcinogen materials that could come through the fabric,” Keith Wilder, a battalion chief with the department, said. “Everybody has two sets of gear.”
With those initiatives and others already in the department’s back pocket, leaders say they’re still working on getting one really important tool for firefighters, the one thing that Burgess says was key in him getting early treatment.
“The one thing we really lack, and this is the big hurdle that we need to get over, is cancer detection through health screenings,” Wilder said.
Wilder says it doesn’t come down to funding, but rather just getting systems into place.
“The city has given us some money to fund this effort, but there are some hurdles you have to cross, for instance you have to have medical involved, and then you have to have legal involved,” he explained.
On Thursday, the North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance announced new initiatives to combat cancer rates among firefighters, one of those being grant money that fire departments in the state can use for screenings.
Wilder says beyond the physical protections, it all comes down to education, and making sure every firefighter is thinking about the invisible danger of carcinogens.
“This requires a huge paradigm shift in the way people think, because it’s not something we ever thought about being an enemy, but it’s our number one enemy,” he said.