Albemarle firefighters combatting cancer risks with improved gear cleaning, additional exams

Published: Jan. 29, 2023 at 12:19 PM EST
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - According to the CDC, firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and an even higher risk of dying from it.

Albemarle County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Meade Whitaker says the high cancer rates can be an occupational hazard.

“We have very high cancer incidence rates from multiple cancers across both male and female firefighters, and so that’s a health risk that we have to deal with,” he said.

Whitaker says ACFR recently took measures to keep firefighters safe.

“Working to make sure our crews have cleaned their gear and know how to clean their gear appropriately, how to decontaminate themselves,” he said.

Learning how to clean their gear correctly after a fire is important for their health.

“We have to respond to fires and deal with the smoke and the particulate in the products of fire, and that’s what causes cancer,” Whitaker said. “We need to learn how to properly decontaminate ourselves after those incidents, and then how to talk to our physician so we can get screenings and physicals and assessments earlier than the general population because we do have an increased risk.”

Whitaker wants to remind people that cancer affects firefighters everywhere.

“We have had several members over the years who have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer,” he said. “Increased rates of cancer among their staff, but also oftentimes the cancer discovered much later than the general population, as well tends to be more aggressive because the type of cancers we face.”

ACFR has increased annual psysical exams with cancer screenings and ultrasounds for its firefighters.

“It’s also very important to support efforts in the General Assembly to increase the cancer production coverage for us through the workers compensation,” Whitaker said.

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