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The City of Portland, Oregon

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Always Ready, Always There

Phone: 503-823-3700

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55 SW Ash Street, Portland, OR 97204

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Fire Fighter Safety Blog: Beat Cancer by Avoiding Conditions that Cause It



This past week I had the honor of participating in the Relay for Life, an event that raises funds to fight cancer and increases awareness within the community.  Nearly everyone has been touched by cancer and most of us have lost a co-worker, friend, relative, or loved one to this insidious disease.  It has become common place to hear a tragic story about cancer and accept it as part of life.  But through events like the Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society is battling back.  In this event, cancer survivors, caretakers, and those left behind are brought together for a 24 hour fundraiser, the proceeds going to fight cancer through research and support.  Teams are formed and they collect funds through pledges.  Relay for Life events are held all across the country, but the one I attended this year was at Clackamas High School. (Special thanks to the administrative team at CHS – they were very generous and did an excellent job hosting the event and allowing us to ‘take over’ their school for the weekend).  Team leaders must have someone on the track for 24 hours straight.  There are lots of fun events and raffles, but the highlight of the day is the Luminaria, held at 10:00 pm.  In the darkness following sunset, paper bags decorated with names of survivors and the names of those lost to cancer line the track.  Special heart-felt and gut-wrenching messages are written on the bags by Relay participants. Lights are placed in each decorated sack, and the glowing messages from the bags provide the only source of light as all the participants walk silent laps around the track.  We remember those lost and those who have successfully beaten the disease, and pray for those who are still fighting cancer.  The melancholy effect never fails to reinforce our sense of mission.

Cancer survivors participating in the Relay for Life at Clackamas High School wore purple shirts.

Cancer is a killer for the public in general, but the incidence of cancer in firefighters is much higher than in the public at large.  We are exposed to toxic and carcinogenic materials on the fire ground and in the work place.  The following is an excerpt from the “Code 3 for a Cure” website:

Numerous studies have proven that the risk of being diagnosed with cancer is higher among firefighters than the general population.  One such study, conducted in 2006 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, reviewed 32 studies on firefighters to determine the cancer risk.  The study’s results confirmed previous findings of an elevated risk for multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, prostate, and testicular cancers.  Eight additional cancers were listed as having a “possible” association with firefighting.  In a three-year study completed in 2005 by the University of Cincinnati, researchers concluded that firefighters face a 102% greater chance of contracting testicular cancer than any other type of worker, a 53% greater chance of multiple myeloma, a 51% greater chance of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a 39% greater chance of skin cancer, a 32% greater chance of brain cancer, a 28% greater chance of prostate cancer, a 22% greater chance of stomach cancer, and a 21% greater chance of colon cancer. “Firefighters are exposed to numerous cancer-causing substances,” said head researcher Grace LeMasters.  “I think obviously they have not got enough protection from that exposure.  We feel that the protective gear that protects them from acute exposures, such as heat and carbon monoxide, doesn’t protect them from the chemical residues that cause cancer.”

Oregon recently passed a presumptive cancer bill for firefighters, and many other states are working in the same direction.  This is a great start – but remember that the best way to beat cancer is to avoid the conditions that cause it:

Wear your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 

Keep your PPE clean and serviceable. 

Wear your Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA)

any time you are exposed to fire fumes and gases. 

Don’t smoke, eat right, and exercise regularly.  

A lot of this is up to you.  But it is comforting to know that many organizations are strongly moving toward finding improved treatments and cures. The American Cancer Society and Stand up 2 Cancer are two excellent organizations that funnel proceeds into cancer research.  Click on the following website links to learn more or contribute:

Until next time – be safe!


Click on the links below to read Safety Chief Bancroft's previous Firefighter Safety Blogs:


  Portland Fire & Rescue We Respond: Always Ready, Always There

  July 28, 2010


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