Cancer on the rise as one of the top causes for firefighter deaths


DOTHAN, Ala (WDHN) — We all know firefighters have one of the toughest jobs, and with it comes some occupational hazards that could have lasting effects.

Burns, smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion are a few hazards that firefighters face every day, and now representative Tommy Hanes, a retired firefighter is trying to pass a bill aimed at taking care of firefighters.

If you think about what firefighters do on a daily basis you might think that asphyxia and burns are the number one killer of firemen, but according to the Dothan Fire Department’s training and safety chief, it’s actually heart attacks.

“As your body gets so hot, and we’re wrapped in this turn-out gear, so the heat can’t get away, your blood actually thickens,” Sean Gibson said. “A lot of the reason they can’t feel the chest pain, which is the heart attack happening is they’ve been worked from head to toe, so they don’t recognize it, they go to bed, and that’s where we find them. That’s usually where they die.”

While heart attacks are the leading cause, the risk of firefighters developing cancer now might be higher than previously thought. Representative Tommy Hanes filed bills allowing firefighters with cancer, under certain conditions, have it considered an occupational disease in order to collect worker’s comp. 

“Cancer is really in our, it’s really in the front view right now for us at the Dothan Fire Department,” Gibson said. “We are taking some very aggressive steps to not only identify and to cure any identified cancer but to prevent them.”

The United State’s Fire Service is doing research into what causes firemen to get cancer and possibly how to prevent it.

“They’re discovering the straps on our helmets, they’re full of carbon and it’s rubbing our necks, so we’re getting thyroid cancer,” Gibson said. “The hoods we wear, because a lot of time firemen, you know traditionally, we think eh you know, it smells smokey but it’ll be fine, we’ll wear it a couple more shifts before we wash it.”

There is funding going into cancer prevention, making it a huge mission for firemen all over right now. Gibson said that the Dothan Fire Department has taken precautions in order to keep thier firemen better protected.

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