Gear is now cleaned in a washer-extractor immediately after every fire. The new standard for fire departments is to have a second set of gear for each person, however, Kitimat still only has a single set. (Photo submitted/JustinMedeiros)

Firefighters hope to raise awareness regarding the toll cancer has on the profession

According to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) database, 84 firefighters in BC have died from occupational cancers in the past.

January marks Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month which aims to shed light on the toll of the disease on the profession. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) database, 84 firefighters in B.C. have died from occupational cancers in the past.

Between 2015 and 2020, 75 per cent of the firefighters added to the IAFF’s Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial reportedly died from occupational cancer.

“Research is proving that firefighters are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with certain types of cancer than the general public – something that the Kitimat Firefighters have recognized and have taken significant steps to mitigate,” says Justin Medeiros, president of the Kitimat Firefighters Association.

A 2006 study, led by Grace LeMasters, comprising of 32 other pieces of work from across the United States and several other countries found a direct correlation between the chemical exposures firefighters experience on the job and their increased risk for cancer. Prior to the study, the B.C. Government enacted legislation that would presume certain cancers are occupationally related to fire fighting.

There are over 265 known carcinogens in a typical residential structure fire.

“No longer is having dirty gear a symbol of pride in the fire service,” Medeiros said.

Gear is now cleaned in a washer-extractor immediately after every fire.

“Everyone’s on the same team, we all do our part and look out for each other. It’s important to have this mentality so that we can all have the best chance of enjoying a long and healthy life,” Medeiros said.

The aim of January is to continue educating firefighters on how to protect themselves against cancer and keep the conversation going.