NVFC Holds Roundtable Discussion on Cancer in the Fire Service

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) held a roundtable discussion during the spring board meeting on April 17 that focused on cancer in the fire service. The session was an extension of a joint NVFC and U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) study that examines emerging issues in the fire service, including cancer, physical and behavioral health, training, and leadership.

The discussion was facilitated by Bill Troup from USFA and featured a panel of experts including Dr. Bill Jenaway, CEO, VFIS, who is also involved in the emergent issues study; Ed Mann, Provident; Chief Brian McQueen, NVFC board member and cancer survivor; and Trey Kelso, Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

Roundtable participants (L-R): Bill Troup, Dr. Bill Jenaway, Chief Brian McQueen, Trey Kelso, and Ed Mann

Studies have proven that firefighters are at increased risk of many types of cancer. Earlier this year, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation hosted a summit of fire service organizations, including the NVFC, to discuss actions that need to be taken to reduce cancer-related deaths.

One of the key challenges to cancer prevention is the culture of the fire service. A change in culture is needed so that dirty gear is not seen as acceptable, proper PPE is worn throughout response and overhaul, leadership enforces SOPs that reduce risks, and individuals take personal responsibility for limiting their exposure.

Some tips and best practices that were discussed during the roundtable include the following:

  • When applying for an Assistance to Firefighters Grant, include washer/dryer and air compressor.
  • Work in your state to establish cancer presumption laws or update existing presumption laws to include all forms of cancer.
  • Keep a personal log book of incidents you respond to, including the incident number, address, unit you’re with, the role you played, and other members of the crew. This will help with identifying potential exposure sources as well as provide documentation needed under cancer presumption laws.
  • Tell your doctor that you are a volunteer firefighter.
  • Get regular physicals to monitor health and identify potential concerns.
  • Create department policies that re-enforce cancer prevention, and make sure these policies are enforced.
  • Company officers need to lead by example.
  • Take personal accountability for protecting yourself from exposure, including proper use of PPE.
  • Wash gear after each incident.
  • Wash your hood after response. Buy a second hood if needed so that you have one on hand while the other is being washed.
  • Wash your face and hands immediately after response. Don’t touch any food until you have washed your hands.

The NVFC is working on several projects to address the issue of cancer in the fire service and help firefighters reduce their risks. This includes a training course that will be available in the NVFC Virtual Classroom, an outreach campaign, and the emergent issues project.