The Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) and the Fire Smoke Coalition formed an official partnership during the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference to bring national attention to the firefighting profession — a profession like no other, now plagued with cancer, illness, disease and cardiac-related deaths. While health and wellness programs have been developed and promoted nationwide to prevent cardiac-related deaths, in large part they are failing. Why? Because firefighters continue to breathe the toxicants in fire smoke and fail to understand that whether through inhalation, ingestion or absorption, the human body cannot withstand the acute or chronic exposure to toxicants contained in today’s fire smoke. “In today’s smoke-filled environments, it’s not about how much you can stand, it’s about how little will kill you or cause long term health problems” said Chief Rob Schnepp, Alameda County (CA) Fire.
Fire smoke is more toxic than ever before because of the plastics, laminates and synthetics found in homes and offices today. The only absolute defense to preventing exposure is wearing air and insuring bodies and protective clothing worn during fireground operations are kept clean. While the solution seems simple, it creates a complex problem that disrupts the cultural foundation and tradition of this profession. Smoke is the age-old companion of the firefighter embraced as part of the job. In fact, the vast majority of firefighters measure success by the black soot-laden helmets and turn-out gear they wear. We can no longer afford to look at the products of combustion as just smoke and most important, we owe it to our predecessors to learn from their misfortune and understand what has caused their illness and death,” said Jason Krusen, Special Operations Chief for the Columbia Fire Department (SC).
Three years ago, the Coalition and RAE Systems, Inc. created a partnership to provide free, two-day training programs focused on awareness, prevention, protection, detection, diagnosis and treatment relative to fire smoke, followed by a burn practical which instructs firefighters how to perform atmospheric monitoring on every fireground scene. Now in demand throughout the United States, the Coalition and the FCSN will participate in these conferences to promote prevention through proper air management and maintaining clean bodies and PPE. “Healthy diets and physical routines are certainly necessary, but those regimens will not prevent the majority of deaths experienced by this profession. What good does it to do eat a healthy meal or exercise while your body is absorbing toxicants from particulates in smoke following a fire?” said Shawn Longerich, Executive Director of the Fire Smoke Coalition.
“While the FCSN mission is to provide comfort, strength and hope for firefighters diagnosed with cancer, the sheer number of firefighters being diagnosed with cancer has become so staggering that we feel a need to partner in prevention programs to create broad-based awareness about how easy it can be to embrace simple habits such as wearing air until the atmosphere is deemed safe and to take a shower and wash your gear,” said Jim Burneka, Jr., Interim President, FCSN.
In honor of this new partnership, the Coalition will immediately re-launch its 2010 Safety Stand Down program, “Wear Your Air, Take a Shower & Wash Your Gear!” featuring Bobby Halton, Editor-in-Chief of Fire Engineering, and sponsored by the Terry Farrell Firefighters Fund. It is imperative that the fire service take a risk-based approach when operating on the fire ground and acknowledge the smoke and its dangerous presence. This free training program is the first step in the right direction,” said Krusen.