“This issue is consuming the fire service,” Boston Fire (BFD) Commissioner Joe Finn told a crowd of more than 200 firefighters, fire leaders and EMS professionals in attendance at the First Responder Health Forum at NFPA Conference & Expo® in Boston today.
Finn spoke about his department’s efforts to engage all who will listen about the topic of firefighter cancer. He shared with the vested audience Boston’s efforts to stop the surge in firefighter cancer in his city and nationally. Finn estimates that 67% of BFD will have a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. On average the Commissioner receives word about a cancer diagnosis every 2-3 weeks. “In May alone, we had two diagnoses.”
The Boston fire leader told first responders in the room that “this job comes with a level of personal responsibility." And he was direct and clear when he stated ”it is incumbent upon management and labor to make a difference.”
Over the past three years, with the support of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, IAFF's Rich Paris, local department brass, and his line firefighters, Finn has put a full court press on to educate brethren, policy makers, and the general public about the toll that cancer is taking within the ranks of his department. He showed BFD’s video about cancer during his opening remarks, pausing to let the names of all those who have succumbed to cancer scroll slowly up the screen at the end. Midway through his session, he ran a BFD follow up video about accountability on the job; and he ended his presentation with a clip from Good Morning America showing how little time it takes for fires to flashover today due to synthetics and new design.
Boston is working hard to update its firehouses – some of which date back to the Civil War. On average, Boston firehouses are 76 years old. Thanks to a $500 thousand investment this year by Mayor Walsh and another $500 available if needed, efforts are currently underway to remove carcinogens in the city’s firehouses. Each structure is being deep-cleaned, fire groups are temporarily being relocated, and soft goods such as beds and living space furniture are being replaced. Finn believes the efforts will go a long way. Boston has also installed industrial cleaning machinery so that firefighters can clean their PPE after each fire. The Last Call Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation graciously underwrote these costs.
Finn and BFD are certainly not alone in their efforts to combat cancer in the fire service. They recognize there have been mistakes made in their department and in other jurisdictions across the country when it comes to firefighter health and wellness. Finn, his leadership team, those on the front line, union officials and even the Hub's impressive medical and research community are coming together to change culture and cancer outcomes in Boston and beyond.