It is not news that the number one killer of firefighters in this country is CANCER! At the beginning, many of us, including me, thought that the cancer cases we heard about were for those that worked the pile after 9|11. But I was wrong! Dead wrong!
One of my early guests was Bill Banks, a former firefighter in my area. Just after he retired, he was diagnosed with a cancer. We discussed it his podcast and thankfully, he directed me to other sources, the Firefighter Cancer Support Foundation and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, where dedicated firefighters, medics, etc., were there to help other brothers and sisters, who had received a similar diagnosis.
From there, a dear friend and former Executive Assistant Chief of the Broward County Sheriff's Office - Fire-Rescue Services, Todd LeDuc, guided me to the excellent team at the University of Miami's Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, including Dr. Alberto Caban-Martinez and Dr. Natasha Solle. They have both been guests on the podcast as they members of a medical research teams who are focused on the Fire Service Cancer Initiative, traveling around the country, educating, researching and studying fire service cancers.
With all the major offices and organizations finally seeing and understanding the inherent danger to firefighters, a strong Cancer Initiative was started. Emphasis was placed on assuring that firefighters use all their PPE at all times on a fireground, from a dumpster fire to a high-rise, we have to perform gross decon before we even think about getting back on the rig to head back to the barn. And we made some damned good progress with that, until....
During this time, I was made aware of a cancer diagnosis for a firefighter that had an amazing career in the city just a few miles from the where I grew up. This was a city a knew and enjoyed visiting, but that was before I became a volunteer firefighter. Nevertheless, we are truly never far from our home and I took this case, personally.
Through another contact, I met Paul and Diane Cotter. Paul had 20+ years in his department. Then he was diagnosed. His wife Diane made the decision to find out how/why a firefighter who whore his/her PPE as prescribed, could still be diagnosed with one of the common types of cancer in the fire service. This led her down a path that had her looking at our PPE, specifically, our bunker gear. And she shared her work with others. Her determination and fortitude took her to find that the bunker gear that we wear to protect us, contained what are now called, "forever chemicals;" known as PFAS/PFOS.
She reached out to a nuclear scientist at Notre Dame University, Dr. Graham Peaslee, who read her letter and agreed to check out our bunker gear. Using both used and new, never-used gear, Dr. Peaslee determined that here were high levels of PFAS/PFOS in our bunker gear. And that when exposed to high heat, might be leeching from the gear into the wearer.
We have also learned that our former version of AFFF, was rife with PFAS/PFOS and thousands if military and civilian firefighters were exposed to these chemicals when they used AFFF, whether in drills or on actual flammable liquid calls.
There is so much more to discuss. But I ask you to take a few moments to visit this link to learn more about how PFAS/PFOS is affecting today's firefighters:
Let's keep the discussion going. We would like to hear from you!
Founder & President of 5-Alarm Task Force Corp. and Creator & Host of the "5-Alarm Task Force" podcast.