Seven out of 10 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2016, died of cancer related to their occupation, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.
Firefighters around the country are asking for more help to preserve their lives.
Firefighters are at a higher risk of getting cancer and dying of it. Cancer-causing toxins at fire rescues have long-term effects on their lungs, kidneys, large intestines, and nearly every other part of their bodies.
General President of the International Association of Firefighters, Edward Kelly said the chemicals are everywhere, including their gears.
“One of the prevalent chemicals in a lot of what we see are these PFAS chemicals, these forever chemicals.”
President of the North Dakota Professional Firefighters Association Darren Schimke said some North Dakotan firefighters have succumbed to occupational cancers.
“There’s a few that come to mind in the forefront for myself because I happen to work with a couple. One has perished and is on the wall I spoke about in Colorado Springs.”
As an active firefighter himself, he said it is traumatic to see his peers go down that road.
“It’s happening in our state from corner to corner. From Williston to Fargo and from Grand Forks to Dickinson. We’re doing everything we can to protect ourselves. We need more help. That’s another part of my message. We need more help politically.”
That help has come in different forms over the years, except some firefighters say it’s not enough.
In Minot, like many other parts of North Dakota, Training Captain Devin Walter says they take showers and change gear as often as possible.
“So we’ll actually have two sets of gear for each individual firefighter so they are not putting on dirty gear after calls. We also have particulate hoods that will filter up to the smallest particles. We’re actually also incorporating a steam shower to our brand new station.”
IAFF’s Edward Kelly wants more legislation to extinguish occupational cancer.
“Our cancer is proven to be job-related. We get it when we sacrifice ourselves for the public. So one of the advocacies that we do is when we do get sick, our families don’t pay the penalty. One of the things I know is North Dakota does have some cancer presumption protections, but it’s way behind a lot of the other states in America.”
He also said everyone has a role to play to keep firefighters safe.
“Whatever is in your household is what we firefighters have to deal with when it is burning. So less chemicals that we infuse into our daily lives, the safer we will be from cancer.”
Earlier this year, North Dakota legislators passed a bill to offer more insurance coverage for emergency responders who die in the line of duty. The new Century Code also provided retroactive protections for all responders.
The IAFF is now in partnership with the American Cancer Society to advance and share research into occupational cancer. This, they hope, will aid in the early detection, treatment, and prevention of cancers among firefighters and emergency medical personnel.