Fire Fighters Association of Missouri
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Tracking Firefighting Exposures

Any record of exposure is better than no record. Currently there is no national guidance for the collection and reporting of exposures to toxicants, including carcinogens or tumor-promoting agents. Exposure reporting guidelines exist for hazmat incidents, but guidelines need to be developed and implemented for exposure to chemicals, toxicants and carcinogens from incidents other than those covered by traditional hazmat guidelines. Firefighters need to change their perception and acknowledge that structure, vehicle, dumpster and even wildland fires contain the same chemicals and toxicants, sometimes in greater concentrations, than in hazmat releases and exposure records need to be maintained for all of these exposures.

Certainly the establishment and maintenance of exposure tracking systems needs to be the primary responsibility of the fire department, but each individual firefighter needs to ensure that they are also tracking their own exposures. Each firefighter should establish their own method of capturing this type of information, using personal computers, mobile devices or even index cards, if for no other reason than having a backup.

The IAFF and several state union organizations, such as the California Professional Fire Fighters, have established cancer registries and/or exposure tracking systems for their members. While some of these systems have been available for many years, utilization by individual firefighters can still be significantly enhanced as the definition of toxic and carcinogenic exposures expands to include more and more incidents. In states where cancer presumptive legislation has been implemented, having exposure records bolsters the case of the impacted firefighter as more and more cases are being challenged and existing presumptive legislation is coming under re-examination. Continue Reading →

Protective Actions Help

While concerns regarding the exposure to carcinogens are common to both career and volunteer firefighters, the volunteer and combination fire service have some specific challenges that are different and need to be addressed.

Volunteers regularly transport contaminated PPE and other gear in their personal vehicles, thereby exposing themselves and their family members to carcinogens. Because they may return home or go back to work directly after a fire, they often continue to wear their personal clothing, which will stay contaminated.

It is not acceptable to return from a medical call with blood or vomitus on our clothing and then sit back down at work or return to the dinner table at home. The same concern should be exercised after returning from a fire: gear must be cleaned, clothing must be washed and showers must be taken, before returning to work or family activities to reduce carcinogenic exposure.  Many volunteers carry their PPE in their personal vehicle, often in the trunk or even in the vehicle’s passenger compartment. Handling PPE in this manner facilitates the off-gassing of toxins and carcinogens, especially when the PPE is heated by elevated temperatures from the sun. Continue Reading →

Firefighter Cancer Update

If there is much good news at all regarding firefighters and cancer, it may be that firefighters may have a lower incidence of lung cancer in some studies when compared to the general population. If this holds in the current studies that are underway, it may be due to restrictions on the use of tobacco products and to the increased use of SCBA compared to past practices.

Following the lungs however, the skin is the body’s second largest organ (in area) and it is highly absorptive. Some areas of skin are more permeable than others, specifically the face, the angle of the jaw, the neck and throat and the groin. Skin’s permeability increases with temperature and for every 5° increase in skin temperature, absorption increases 400%.

The most permeable piece of personal protective equipment is the hood. Hoods are designed to protect our head and neck from heat, but are not designed to stop skin absorption through the forehead, angle of the jaw, the neck and the throat. Continue Reading →

Updates on Firefighter Cancer

Current research demonstrates an increased risk for a number of types of cancer among firefighters. Although most fire departments are responding to fewer fires than in the past, the amount of exposure time has increased due to the limited number of available firefighters, either due to budget cuts, staffing reductions or the availability of volunteers.

Today’s fires grow at a much more rapid rate than yesterday’s fires while exposing firefighters to significantly increased concentrations of highly carcinogenic agents. Today’s residential fires have more in common with hazardous materials events than old-fashioned house fires due to the materials now common in homes such as plastics and synthetics. Commercial and vehicle fires have highly concentrated toxicants and dumpster fires contain completely unknown substances and toxicants. Continue Reading →