Fire Service Organizations Release Best Practices for Preventing Firefighter Cancer
March 6, 2018
Cancer is increasingly recognized as one of them most dangerous threats to firefighters. Studies have shown that firefighters are at increased risk for many types of cancer as compared with the general population. The toxins and carcinogens firefighters are exposed to on the scene and through residual effects of firefighting are better understood now than ever before. A new resource is now available to help firefighters understand their risks and proactively protect themselves from occupational cancer.
The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) Cancer Subcommittee and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) Volunteer and Combination Officers Section (VCOS), along with the Fire Service Occupational Cancer Alliance, the Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN), and with support from California Casualty, have developed a poster of the best practices for preventing firefighter cancer.
“Firefighters are contracting cancer at an alarming rate, and we need to take action to protect our brothers and sisters,” said Chief Brian McQueen, co-chair of the NVFC Cancer Subcommittee and cancer survivor. “Fortunately, there are specific things we can do to lessen our risks and prevent exposure. The NVFC, IAFC VCOS, Fire Service Occupational Cancer Alliance, FCSN, and California Casualty strongly encourage you to adopt these best practices in your department immediately and ensure all firefighters are adhering to these policies.”
““We call upon department leaders and all personnel to make cancer prevention a priority in your department,” said Jim Seavey, board member of the IAFC VCOS, co-chair of the NVFC Cancer Subcommittee, and cancer survivor. “We owe it to each firefighter, to their families, and to the community to take every step necessary to keep our firefighters healthy and to ensure they come home safely. Together we can stop firefighter occupational cancer.”
The poster provides all fire department leaders and firefighting personnel with specific actions that must be taken in order to address the cancer epidemic and protect firefighters. These best practices are as follows:
- Full protective equipment (PPE) must be worn throughout the entire incident, including SCBA during salvage and overhaul.
- A second hood should be provided to all entry-certified personnel in the department.
- Following exit from the IDLH, and while still on air, you should begin immediate gross decon of PPE using soap water and a brush, if weather conditions allow. PPE should then be placed into a sealed plastic bag and placed in an exterior compartment of the rig, or if responding in POVs, placed in a large storage tote, thus keeping the off-gassing PPE away from passengers and self.
- After completion of gross decon procedures as discussed above, and while still on scene, the exposed areas of the body (neck, face, arms, and hands) should be wiped off immediately using wipes, which must be carried on all apparatus. Use the wipes to remove as much soot as possible from head, neck, jaw, throat, underarms, and hands immediately.
- Change your clothes and wash them after exposure to products of combustion or other contaminates. Do this as soon as possible and/or isolate in a trash bag until washing is available.
- Shower as soon as possible after being exposed to products of combustion or other contaminates. “Shower within the Hour.”
- PPE, especially turnout pants, must be prohibited in areas outside the apparatus floor (i.e. kitchen, sleeping areas, etc.) and never in the household.
- Wipes, or soap and water, should also be used to decontaminate and clean apparatus seats, SCBA, and interior crew area regularly, especially after incidents where personnel were exposed to products of combustion.
- Get an annual physical, as early detection is the key to survival. The NVFC outlines several options at www.nvfc.org. “A Healthcare Provider’s Guide to Firefighter Physicals” can be downloaded from www.fstaresearch.org/resource/?FstarId=11591.
- Tobacco products of any variety, including dip and e-cigarettes should never be used at anytime on or off duty.
- Fully document ALL fire or chemical exposures on incident reports and personal exposure reports.
The poster is now available as a resource for all fire departments. Use these best practices as the basis for fire department standard operating procedures, and hang a copy at the station as a reminder of the actions every firefighter needs to follow. Download the poster here: https://www.nvfc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Preventing-Cancer-poster.pdf
The NVFC Cancer Subcommittee and IAFC VCOS are currently developing a ribbon report to further address cancer in the fire service and the cultural change needed to ensure the safety of all personnel. The report will be released later this year.