Firefighters face danger every day on the job, yet running headfirst into a burning building isn’t the top killer of these men and women — it’s cancer.
According to an NBC report this week, fire departments nationwide are reporting increased levels of cancer. This study was released after the CDC/NIOSH tracked 30,000 firefighters, and found that they were at a higher risk for the disease. In the past, firefighters were most often diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer, yet this new study shows a shift towards leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma.
This change signals that firefighters today fight very different blazes than what they once did. Modern homes are filled with synthetics, chemicals, and plastics that, when they explode, coat firefighters in a toxic soot. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is more important than ever, and some departments have even begun to take preemptive steps towards safer practices.
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Some fire departments have responded by using air tanks that provide oxygen for 45 minutes, instead of the standard 30 minutes. Many note the importance of thoroughly washing gear, so as not to take home carcinogens. However, improper PPE still remains as one of the most heavily cited offenses for departments across the country.
In some cases, OSHA has fined departments $1,000 per infraction. A fire department in Hartford, Connecticut faced up to $5,000 in fines after an inspector found the following violations:
- Failure to ensure that all firefighters had been fit tested for a breathing apparatus, which prevents poison gas from being inhaled.
- Failure to issue and require protective heat resistant hoods
- All firefighters did not receive required medical evaluations prior to annual fitness tests
- Failure to ensure that all breathing apparatus air cylinders were tested every five years
- Failure to ensure that firefighters wore equipment and helmets properly
Chiefs who fail to comply with OSHA and NFPA standards are not only putting themselves at risks of severe fines; they’re also putting the lives of firefighters in greater danger than they already face. Following the new report, these infractions may have more severe consequences from OSHA. Congress has already taken action by considering a National Firefighter Cancer Registry.
Worksite Medical can help fire departments stay compliant with on-site medical testing. We created our NFPA 1582 checklist package to do all of your required testing at once for convenience and accuracy.