Name the occupations that are naturally associated with heroism and courage and firefighter is likely to top the list, but when asked to name the risks associated with firefighting, few people are likely to come up with malignant mesothelioma. Yet firefighters are at far greater risk for the rare asbestos-related form of cancer than the general population, and as a result, fire departments all across the country are making adjustments to their clean-up practices.
Firefighters Have 100% Greater Risk of Mesothelioma
This week a Colorado fire department buried one of their own after firefighter Dan Moran lost a three-year battle with cancer, and though his disease was not identified as malignant mesothelioma, it was assumed to be job related. Firefighters are constantly exposed to chemicals and materials that are carcinogenic, and that puts them at far greater risk for all types of cancer than is true of people in other occupations.
According to a study commissioned by the International Association of Firefighters, being a firefighter comes with a 100% greater likelihood of being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, a 40% greater chance of being diagnosed with throat cancer, and a 14% greater likelihood of being diagnosed with any type of cancer than the rest of the population.
Greater Mesothelioma Risk Requires More Active Protection Protocols
Firefighting professionals say that the risk of mesothelioma has changed attitudes about the importance of cleanup after a fire. Where it was once considered a point of pride to have the most burnt up gear and the dirtiest helmet, today’s firefighters take extra time to clean their gear before they leave the site of a fire.
The fear of asbestos fibers and other toxins being carried back to the station house has led to numerous new protocols, including attaching hoses to exhaust pipes to keep gas from getting trapped in the garage, and all firefighting gear is bagged on the scene of a fire and sent to an extractor for a deep cleansing before it is used again. The goal is to keep the microscopic fibers that cause mesothelioma from coming into contact with the skin or being inhaled. Firefighters wipe themselves down immediately after a fire and taken out of service so that they can shower. As one safety expert says, “It’s a dangerous profession and I don’t know that there’s a way to totally remove all that risk, but every day we’re looking at risk, prioritizing risk and we’re figuring out how to minimize that.”
If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, you understand the fears that firefighters and others exposed to asbestos live with every day. For more information on the resources available to help you fight this illness, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net today at 1-800-692-8608.