When it comes to contamination and firefighter cancer, the old adage, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” comes to mind. First, there’s the obvious correlation to what firefighters do – battle smoke and fire. Then there’s the cause and effect logic behind the saying. Contaminants are causing fire organizations to deal with the deadly effects of cancer and other related health issues.
NFPA is focusing much effort on occupational exposure and firefighter health and wellness, including initiatives to raise awareness, analyze data and share best practices that go beyond our codes, standards, and training. NFPA’s research affiliate, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, is currently involved in three projects focused on PPE cleaning, contamination and firefighter cancer. Late last month, more than 60 fire service representatives, researchers, regulators, health and safety officers, Independent Service Providers (ISPs), equipment providers and others gathered in Columbus, Ohio to address contamination and cancer in the fire service. The workshop was part of the one year Campaign for Fire Service Contamination Control research project, which focused on the development of best practices, fire station and equipment design, codes, standards, and resources.
These studies will provide important scientific, medical and educational insights. In the meantime, NFPA has developed a protective hoods safety bulletin, a firefighter safety cancer fact sheet, and a helpful resource page to ensure that the fire service and others are highly aware of contamination and cancer issues. The technical committee for NFPA 1851 is also working on changes to the code to make cleaning contaminated PPE more clear. Later this fall, the issue of firehouse contamination will also be discussed by representatives from 13 leading fire organizations during the 3rd annual NFPA Responder Forum.
NFPA is by no means championing these issues alone. Leading organizations including the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, National Fallen Firefighter Foundation, International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council and others are fiercely addressing occupational hazards. On a local level firefighters, fire leaders and elected officials are taking necessary steps to change the culture of the fire service and address equipment, apparatus, and fire station contamination concerns too. Key legislation is also taking shape across the nation. For example, during a recent monthly meeting of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts hosted at NFPA headquarters, members reviewed proposed revisions to state firefighter line of duty disability provisions and voted to support the adoption of new language that would enhance efforts to support firefighters stricken with cancer.
The health and well-being of firefighters should not only matter to those that wear the uniform, but should be of great concern to all taxpayers, community members, and elected officials.