The fall meeting of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) took place in Concord, NC on October 21-23 with 40 States attending, 37 directors and 25 alternates. NVFC is now partners with Shell Pipeline, Penske Racing and the Pennzoil 22 car. Shell Pipeline is partners with NVFC for the deck plate, which has the NVFC logo and “Find the Fighter in You” and MakeMeAFirefighter.org.
That website will start initiate process of matching someone interested in becoming a firefighter with a department, with an emphasis on volunteer departments but a fire department close to them regardless. There have been 2,800 website hits so far and growing.
A key focus of this meeting was cancer in the fire service and more evidence is showing it to be worse than expected, although suspected as such for many years. Clinical evidence is now beginning to validate what many in political circles have tried to dismiss and ignore hoping it would go away including insurance carriers. Just the opposite is now moving ahead with strong evidence that continues to build reaching and validating many conclusions backed by clinical studies and science.
Career groups are way out in front on this topic with one key screening factor. It starts at the initial exam when the question is asked, what is your occupation? For career firefighters, listing firefighter as their occupation links medical results and more specific data to proximate a cause by adding daily to the building evidence of high cancer rates for firefighters. The issue for volunteers goes back to the same screening question of, what is your occupation? The answer often comes back as carpenter, electrician, plumber, truck driver, mechanic, retail and on and on. This poses many challenges with data collection and analysis on the volunteer side to prove the same cancer’s that are manifesting in all firefighters, men and women, career and volunteer.
A highly troublesome development discovered in this review is that while lung cancer has been linked as a probable proximate cause with breathing smoke, they have discovered absorption and ingestion may be equally or more significant in cause factors. Compared to most the body, absorption rates around the neck and jaw area is 100% greater and that leads to a protracted discussion on hoods. Protective hoods which we pull down around our neck many times during a fire versus removing it and putting it back on. Hoods that do not get washed after every fire may be a link to cancer. One department is already dumping every hood into a five gallon bucket after every fire then issuing a clean hood to everyone on the scene. Absorption rates for the groin area are 300% higher and how many times do we drop bunkers and place hood, gloves, mask or helmet there? Then there is the question on gloves, how often and how well do they get washed? The quick answer is not nearly often or well enough. Eating on scene in our gear without washing hands is now a link. Do we really think we can get that cap off the top of the bottled water with leaving something behind and then store what is left in our bunker gear for later. Hauling gear in your personal vehicle has a page of issues unto itself which takes all that stuff home and exposes the family.
What we are working with currently is not only the tip of the iceberg but the upper half of that tip. The volume of information and awareness could take the space of this entire newsletter, so there will be more to come in future articles. For most reading this article the damage, if any is already done and the two control elements going forward is to immediately change how we do business with PPE and getting detailed annual medical screenings including those procedures that are highly disliked.