Occupational Cancer: Improving Safety for Firefighters

When an individual commits to a life in fire service, he or she takes a brave and selfless risk. While firefighters should be rewarded for long careers and years of service, they often develop occupational illnesses instead. According to data compiled by the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), 61% of firefighter line-of-duty deaths since 2002 were caused by cancer. Additionally, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found that firefighters are 9% more likely than the general population to be diagnosed with cancer, and 14% more likely to die from it.

Mitigating the Risk

Today, the fires that firefighters put out are more dangerous than ever. Modern homes and businesses are filled with plastic and other synthetic materials that release deadly toxins and carcinogens when they combust and decompose.

Because of this, firefighters must be extra diligent with safety and cleaning protocols. Once a sign of pride and heroism, soot is now a risk factor that must be eliminated as soon as possible. The sooner a firefighter can change and clean their clothes, the more he or she will be able to limit the absorption of carcinogens. Additionally, masks must be worn throughout the clean-up process and fire departments nationwide are buying larger oxygen tanks to diminish the risk of respiratory cancers.

Fire departments across the nation are ordering their men and women to take chemical dangers more seriously. Many seasoned firefighters who have lost friends to cancer take it upon themselves to look out for younger colleagues.

Actionable Steps

The Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FFCSN) has developed a series of actionable steps that crews can take to protect themselves. These steps include, but are not limited to:

  • Wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus in active and post-fire environments
  • Using baby wipes to remove soot while on the scene
  • Changing and washing clothes immediately after a fire
  • Showering thoroughly after a fire
  • Getting a yearly, firefighter-appropriate physical exam to ensure early detection and treatment

Paying It Forward

Thirty-eight states, including Illinois, have “presumptive laws” that automatically attribute the presence of cancer or other illnesses in firefighters to their job activities. This means that if an active-duty or recently retired firefighter is diagnosed with cancer, they are entitled to workers’ comp benefits. Nevertheless, some firefighters are still denied benefits by their workers’ comp carriers.

Final Takeaways

Being a firefighter is a noble, but dangerous job that can increase your likelihood of cancer. While you definitely need to take all the preventative measures you can, your occupational disease should be covered by presumptive laws and workers’ comp.

If you are a firefighter or know a firefighter who lives in Chicago and has been denied workers’ comp. for an occupational disease, your battle does not end here. Our lawyers can help you get what you deserve.

Call Leonard Law Group at (312) 487-2513 or request free consultation today.

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