You have probably heard the phrase, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” For firefighters, where there is smoke, there is cancer.
Many people wrongly assume that most firefighters die from an actual fire. A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters. In fact, over 60 percent of firefighter’s deaths are now cancer related.
Toxic soot dangers
Researchers believe toxic soot is the main cause of cancer among firefighters. Today, there are more homes built with plastics and synthetic materials than in the past. Unfortunately, the soot produced by these materials when they burn contains a variety of toxic chemicals and carcinogens, which increase the risk of cancer.
A firefighter can absorb toxic soot through the mouth or skin. While firefighters wear gear to protect themselves from flames and toxins, the gear does not always work. Firefighters can inhale toxic soot when they take off their masks and can absorb soot into the skin through tears or gaps in the gear. Most fire stations now require firefighters to clean their gear immediately when they return from a fire, in order to prevent other firefighters from touching or breathing in the toxic soot.
Workers’ compensation laws
The State of California provides workers’ compensation benefits to firefighters for “work-caused” cancer and other serious injuries and illnesses that develop from the job. The state considers firefighting to be inherently dangerous and offers workers’ compensation benefits to full-time firefighters, as well as volunteers and part-time employees. To receive workers’ compensation benefits for cancer, California firefighters must prove that their job duties or work conditions were the cause of the cancer.
For example, in 2002, over 200 firefighters responded to a fire in a Boston power plant. Many firefighters recall chemicals pouring down from the ceiling and coating their protective gear in a toxic slime. According to the city commissioner, over 50 of these firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer since the fire. In this case, toxic slime was the likely cause.
If you or a loved one are a firefighter and are suffering from cancer, you might be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits for your illness.