A recent issue of NFPA Journal offered a sobering look at the toll cancer is taking on firefighters. Modern homes and the combustibles within them are partly to blame; these synthetic materials under fire produce substances "proven or widely believed to cause cancer," states the article. While exact statistics are hard to come by, the figures that are available are disturbing:
- According to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), 61 percent of line-of-duty firefighter deaths between 2002 and 2016 were caused by occupational cancer
- there were more than 1,050 line-of-duty firefighter cancer deaths during that period
Another news outlet recently underscored this problem. "We have absolutely seen an increase in firefighters getting cancer, and the cancers we are seeing are abnormal cancers, unusual cancers for people in their age groups," Charles Hood, fire chief for the City of San Antonio, told KSAT-12 during a recent interview. "We are seeing younger, healthier firefighters contracting cancer."
Hood added that modern home furnishings--many of which are synthetic--can "put off some really toxic gases" when on fire. Moreover, today's unprotected homebuilding material of choice is leading to more rapid structural failure when burning and placing firefighters in pretty precarious situations. (Not convinced? See the groundbreaking research on this topic.)
Reducing fire risks to both residents and firefighters is home fire sprinklers. While there isn't data pointing to fire sprinklers and decreased cancer rates, consider this: When compared to structure fires in homes with no automatic extinguishing equipment present, analysis of home structure fires with sprinklers present showed a 65 percent reduction in firefighter injuries per 1,000 home structure fires, states NFPA's "Impact of Home Sprinklers on Firefighter Injuries" report.
Please convince your decision makers that today's home fires pose significant threats to your local fire service. Take a stand in support of requirements for home fire sprinklers, which can help safeguard them from the risks of their job.