RANDALL COUNTY, TX (KFDA) - According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, firefighters have a nine percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population.
During structure fires, firefighters are exposed to carcinogens and other hazardous materials and those chemicals give them a higher risk of getting numerous types of cancers.
“Our decon procedures start at the fire ground, even if it’s something as simple as washing ourselves off with a hose line or something like that to knock the big pieces off.” said Randall County Firefighter Andrew Stowers. “The synthetic materials that we have here, they produce some really harmful bi-products of combustion when they burn.”
The structure fire chemicals left on their gear could even affect their families.
“The more of it that we have on us, the more that we track home, and that we take to our families and that’s not something we wanna do," said Stowers. “It’s far more important to make sure that we leave it all here and get it taken care of quickly.”
The Randall County Fire Department takes decontamination procedures seriously because losing one firefighter could also affect the community.
“It’s very serious because it not only affects us, but it affects our families and it affects the community,” said Randall County Fire Marshall Troy Ducheneaux. “If one of our firefighters develops cancer and has to even just go through treatment, then he’s no longer at our station during those times we might need him or the community needs him for that emergency call.”
Firefighters are most at risk of developing respiratory, gastrointestinal or kidney cancers.
“We go into those fire environments and we pull ceilings, we pull wall coverings and we expose that to ourselves,” said Ducheneaux. “Through that process of firefighting it gets not only on us but sometimes we inhale those products. If we can prevent that from happening to any of our firefighters then we’re gonna take those steps in doing so.”
Ducheneaux also talked about how decontamination procedures for firefighters are different than they used to be.
“It’s a mindset change from back in the old days, when the dirtier your gear was the more manlier or tougher you seemed to be. Nowadays, the cleaner your gear is the wiser you are," said Ducheneaux.
After every structure fire, firefighters must go though an eight-step process to decontaminate, but the Randall County Fire Department said it’s good practice for them to decontaminate after every smokey environment they are in.