Understanding the Connection Between Cancer & Fire Service

ESO Staff

Firefighters are well aware of the inherent dangers of their job: entering burning structures, battling heat and smoke, scaling heights, and even having to drive quickly through crowded streets. But an additional, less-obvious risk is now being uncovered and calling for attention: illness from carcinogenic exposures.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), firefighters face a nine percent increase in cancer diagnoses, and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population in the U.S. However, many of these earlier studies did not include volunteer firefighters, or sufficient numbers of female and minority firefighters, to adequately assess their risk.  

In 2018, Congress directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create the National Firefighter Registry (NFR) in order to better understand the link between on-the-job exposure to toxicants and cancer. The NFR will be used to track and analyze cancer trends and risk factors among the U.S. fire service to help the public safety community, researchers, scientists, and medical professionals find better ways to protect all firefighters. 

Expected to open enrollment this year, all firefighters—structural and wildland, career and volunteer, active and retired—should consider participating in the NFR. This includes firefighters who have never received a cancer diagnosis, previously had cancer, or currently have cancer. Participation is voluntary, and after receiving consent from participating firefighters, the NFR will work with agencies to collect data. 

This data will be analyzed for trends such as if some groups of firefighters or certain response activities are associated with a greater risk of cancer as well as how differences in exposure, geography, gender may affect cancer ratesResearchers also hope to learn more about how certain protective measures may reduce the risk of cancer. 

In anticipation of the open enrollment for NFR, ESO has been working on its Fire software to add additional new exposure and decontamination fields into its tracking tools. These newly released features will make it easier than ever before to not only track pertinent information from each call but to be ready to easily submit this information to the NFR database when the time comes.  

ESO’s Fire RMS software reduces the amount of time required to enter and track required information from each incident. This not only frees up more time for agencies to focus on training and other important activities but also helps reduce the work needed to meet state and national requirements. With built-in coding specific to the fire industry and a cloud-based environment, these tools make gathering, maintaining, and processing station data more efficient. 

The new enhancements to the Fire Incident module add features to help firefighters easily track exposure to products of firefighting and fire, along with the decontamination steps that were taken following the exposure. This information is then seamlessly integrated into a fire records management system, eliminating a firefighter from having to document this exposure in other software, on paper, or in a personal notebook. This also takes the documentation of the incident, exposure, and decon and adds it to the firefighter’s personnel management file used in the ESO Personnel Management (PM) module. Finally, a historical view of the data over time can help illuminate trends or common risk factors. 

By assisting in the nation-wide efforts to learn more about the connection between cancer and firefighting, all participating agencies and individuals are not only helping to bring awareness and support to those currently fighting cancer but helping improve life for the firefighters of tomorrow.  

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