Firefighters spend their lives trying to save others. Now the federal government is stepping in to save them from a danger they can’t escape — cancer.
President Trump signed the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act this week, which will require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to establish a database to study links between cancer and the toxins that firefighters are exposed to a regular basis. The International Association of Firefighters says cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters.
The bill will likely impact how first responders are treated after being diagnosed with cancer. Fire officials in Charlotte hope the research will help establish new safety protocol and equipment to keep first responders safe.
“We’ll be able to look and pull in national data so that we can analyze it ourselves and see if there’s any trends and any changes in personal protective equipment that need to be made,” said Battalion Chief Jerry Winkles.
The federal registry will collect information, including age of diagnosis, years on the job and types of calls. It’s all voluntary, but to Winkler, it’s a game changer.
“We can look at trends and also look at preventative measures so that we can start taking greater efforts to protect our firefighters,” Winkler said.
In 2016, Charlotte Fire lost three people to cancer. Battalion Chief Barbara Beam and firefighters Seth Tinsley and Jeff McGill. Since then, the department has been on a mission to prevent future diagnoses.
“We do gross decontamination on the scene,” said Winkler. “We’re going to be issuing second sets of gloves, we’ve already done hood initiatives, so every time they run a fire-related initiative they can trade out the hoods that protect their necks and ears.”
Over $2 million in federal funds will be given to the CDC to get the registration up and running.