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I recently had the honor of speaking to the NFPA Forum in Indianapolis.  The NFPA Forum is made up of three representatives from all of the major fire service organizations for the purpose of solving complex issues and moving the fire service forward.  It really is an powerful group with an awesome purpose! I sat in the morning session to listen in while I waited for my turn at the podium.  

The morning session focused on cancer presumption in the fire service.  I expect my knowledge of cancer in the fire service is similar to many.  I know it’s a huge problem, but yet I struggle to wash my hood right away.  It’s really hard to change behaviors, even when you academically know that it’s what you should do.  The speaker panel on cancer presumption was very impressive.  A line of subject matter experts from both the scientific/medial field, and practitioners from the fire service.  As I started to put all of their messages together, I had a bit of an epiphany.  

The data on the rates of cancer in firefighters is absolutely shocking.  I’ve spent most of my time trying to reduce deaths that occur in IDLH situations.  But after hearing those presentations, I believe we need to place at least as much attention to EDLH situations.  (Eventually Dangerous to Life and Health….What do you know, another acronym!) I won’t lay a bunch of data on you right now.  But I will share with a video we saw from the Boston Fire Department.  Watch it, share it, and most importantly, do something about it.  

Then, I got to thinking about the big hubbub around the 2-in/2-out thing that OSHA brought to the table in late 80’s/early 90’s.  From what I remember about it, there wasn’t a lot of discussion.  They saw an issue and laid down the law without a whole lot of wiggle room for our industry.  We didn’t necessary like it, but we had to deal with it.  It was the inadvertent birth of RIT. 

WHERE THE HECK ARE THEY ON CANCER?

I know some of you are thinking, “SHH! Don’t get them stirred up!” But by now, you probably have a sense of where I land with what people think, particularly when it comes to firefighter safety and doing the right thing.  We, the fire service, need to fix this now.  We just can’t keep behaving the way we have in the past.  I heard in that presentation that we should treat structure fires as hazmat calls when it comes to exposures to firefighters and decon.  And I saw the data to back that claim up.  It will be difficult, expensive, and some of us won’t like it.  But we need to suck it up and get on with it.  For me, it’s now a front-burner issue. 

What I can’t figure out is how we’ve gotten away with it this long!  These exposures are killing our brothers and sisters in droves, and it seems to be acceptable.  We’ll say it’s not, but the behavior always tells the truth.  And no disrespect to those who have been fighting this battle fiercely for a long time.  I know I just stumbled into the fight, but I’m shocked and disappointed in myself that I sat on the sidelines this long.  Maybe we can beat OSHA to the punch this time.  It almost seems like “they” (whoever that is) want us to get sick.  Only in our business can you take your fatal breath months, or even years before it kills you. 

Do something. 

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Comment by Wm. Lance Smith, BSFS on November 2, 2015 at 2:44pm

This is an issue that should be addressed by OSHA, CDC, USFA, NFA, and NIOSH as it creates injury or death from a substance. It is also up to the present and future leaders of the fire service to take the reigns and bring the issue of fire related cancers to the next Life Safety Summit. We have identified a risk, and now we must develop a risk reduction plan to reduce or prevent the morbidity and mortality of that risk. We fail to be professional if we identify a risk and do nothing about it.

Comment by Jon D Marsh on October 30, 2015 at 7:41am

Like most other wise advice and issues concerning Life Safety, the NFFF has been trying to drive this through our thick heads for many years via 16 LIFE SAFETY INITIATIVES created by some very, very wise men and women at a certain summit years ago. Sometimes  the culprit has to smack us in the face and kill someone close and dear to us before we take any initiative to DO SOMETHING.

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