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KS Dept. Revises Procedures to Help Prevent Cancer

The department released its cancer prevention policy in November to reduce the amount of deadly carcinogens firefighters carry from the scene to the station and even to their homes. The one-page ... of the criteria under the Kansas Firefighter Relief ...

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The members of the Hutchinson, KS, Fire Department pictured in December 2017. Photo credit: Hutchinson Fire Department | Share | Share | Share | Share Dec18--As Hutchinson firefighter Garrett Ediger drags a hose to a house fire on Random Road, the obvious danger is the 1,000-plus degree flames, but the hidden harm lingering in the walls are the dozens of cancer-causing carcinogens. Ediger returns to the station and notices the layer of black soot on his equipmentDuring the fire, the soot on his gear was an afterthoughtNow it's a top priority, and time is of the essence. The body's skin absorption rate increases by as much as 400 percent for every five degrees the body temperature rises, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. The soot-covered gear leaves a smell that lingers in Fire Station No2, the city's busiest station, for daysSo do the carcinogensEven with preventative measures, the fire department can only eliminate so much. The ongoing battle is one Hutchinson firefighters have started to address head-onThe department released its cancer prevention policy in November to reduce the amount of deadly carcinogens firefighters carry from the scene to the station and even to their homes. The one-page policy is already being revised as the department continues to find out more about best cancer prevention policiesRecent information has spurred similar interventions at fire departments around the world. A multi-year study of nearly 30,000 firefighters found that those firefighters were more likely to get cancer than the general public, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded. The institute's study released in 2015 showed firefighters were twice as likely to have mesothelioma, likely from asbestos, as well as higher rates of digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers.Among the firefighters studied in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco, the likelihood of death from lung cancer increased with the amount of time spent at fires; leukemia deaths were higher the more fire runs made by firefighters. Hutchinson firefighters named about a half dozen firefighters that ultimately died of cancer in the last 20 yearsMost were retiredThe only active firefighter and the first name that Hutchinson firefighters recalled was Doug Lloyd, who died of leukemia in 2004He was 30; just older than Ediger is now. Since Lloyd died on duty, his death would've met part of the criteria under the Kansas Firefighter Relief Act, which serves as a life insurance policyFor the others, there is no accurate system tracking their deaths. It's even harder to peg volunteer firefighter deaths related to cancerKansas' force is made up of mostly volunteer fire departments. The lack of oversight has drawn state and national attention. Pat Collins, president of the Kansas State Association of Fire Chiefs, has experienced the lack of oversight firsthandHe is a cancer survivorCollins has been fighting fires since 1976He said his colon cancer wasn't covered by workers compensation because it cannot definitively be pinpointed to his job. "There is really no way of telling and that is part of the problem these days," Collins said. Collins said getting an accurate registry is one of the association's top priorities during the 2018 legislative sessionOn the federal level, Congress is considering the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2017. Changing the culture The Hutchinson Fire Department's cancer prevention policy is on display at each stationAs Ediger crosses the bay area to the living quarters, a sign on the door offers a last-minute reminder not to bring any firefighting gear inside. "No PPE in living quarters," the sign saysPPE stands for personal protective equipment. Another sign just below says, "Soot is not a badge of honor." It also lists facts about increased cancer rates among firefighters.The "badge of honor" was referred to do by several fire administrators interviewed by The NewsClean is the new honor, Chief of Training Jesse Martin said. "It's been kind of a cultural change for those guys," he said. The global change, fire chief Steve Beer said, is evident in firefighter equipment magazines where clean-faced men have replaced the rugged, soot-covered firefighterBeer, who started in April, said his former department in Wisconsin has installed saunas because they're believed to extract toxins from the body. In October, the department started a cancer committeeTwo of the seven members already attended a symposium by the Fire Service Occupational Cancer AllianceAlso under Chief Beer, the department purchased 40 extra firefighter hoods at $60 a piece and about $450 in special wipes to clean off exposed areas. Martin said the skin around the face is a vulnerable areaThe second hood allows them to swap out hoods after a fireVehicles are wiped clean after a fire as well, and firefighters are encouraged to shower and change clothing. The department budgeted to buy an extra set of gear for a third of the department over the next three yearThe full set costs about $3,500, Martin saidIf firefighters respond to back-to-back calls, Martin wants them to be able to switch gear so they decrease the amount of time in carcinogen-filled gear. CaptMike McCandless was handed used gear when he started with the department back in 1990Back then, firefighters were much more likely to discard their gear to cool off during "overhaul." An overhaul is when firefighters open ceilings, walls and furniture to check for a fire lurking in themIt is the most dangerous for contact with carcinogensThe smoldering ruins typically are at their most toxic levels thenWithout a mask, firefighters inhale the gases.The fire department also plans to apply for grants to buy extractors for all six stations -- the department only has one now -- to wash gear and funnel systems to remove fire-engine exhaust from the baysFire Station No2 has a makeshift covering firefighters crafted to remove the diesel exhaust. "Firefighters are fixers," Martin said"When we see a problem or have something come up we want to find a solution, and we are realizing there is a solution to cancerIt's not something we have to endure." ___ (c)2017 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.) 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