BURKE COUNTY, N.C. — Firefighters across the foothills are in mourning after a Burke County firefighter died from a rare type of head and neck cancer.
Christopher Banks Jr., 28, served with Drowning Creek Fire Department for more than eight years; the last two of which, he spent getting treated for nasopharyngeal carcinoma.
He leaves behind a wife and two young children.
Melissa Stevenson, the department's public information officer, said funeral arrangements are pending for Saturday, and Banks will receive full firefighting honors.
"He always said, 'I got a call. I'm going,'" Stevenson recalled. "Even when he was sick, his wife told me, she said, 'Yeah he hears that alarm go off. He wants to go, but he knows he's so sick, he can't go.'"
Banks is the latest firefighter to die in what experts have described as a cancer crisis among firefighters.
Recent studies show firefighters are nine percent more likely to get cancer compared to everyone else, and they're 14 percent more likely to die from it.
Experts trace the cause to the rise in plastic and synthetic materials within buildings that release deadly carcinogens when they burn in fires.
It's why Hickory's fire department purchased new state-of-the-art hoods to protect their firefighters' heads and necks.
The issue has also attracted the attention of North Carolina legislators.
House Bill 520 proposes to change state workers' compensation laws to recognize nine specific cancers that firefighters are extremely susceptible to from their line of work.
House Bill 520 passed its second reading in the house, and it has been referred to committee in the Senate.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up for the Banks family.