MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month which sheds light on how fire crews across the country and right here in the Grand Strand are fighting more than just flames.
Captain Jon Evans with the Myrtle Beach Fire Department said 10 years ago, occupational cancer was not really a topic of concern but now taking measures to prevent it is one of their top priorities.
“It used to be the person with the dirtiest helmet was the cool guy. The one you wanted to talk to because he was the biggest, badest firefighter in the department, but what we’ve seen is that’s cancer sitting on the helmet. Those carcinogens and smoke sit on there. All the materials that were burning sit on there,” said Evans.
Occupational cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters who are often exposed to dangerous and potentially cancerous chemicals.
The Myrtle Beach Fire Department stepped up its safety measures a few years ago by adding new gear designed to help prevent the disease.
The gear includes longer hoods, jackets and pants which provide better coverage and are specially lined to block dangerous particles. It also fits tighter in some areas to help further protect chemicals from seeping onto their skin.
Evans said for Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, the department is stressing the importance, especially to new recruits, of properly cleaning their gear and equipment when they return to the station.
This is to prevent carcinogens from their gear from getting onto their skin.
Crews also hook up their firetrucks to an exhaust capture system to keep them safe even when they’re at the station.
“As soon as they come in we hook the exhaust capture system up to our fire trucks or ambulances so the exhaust isn’t going throughout the bay and the station. It gets filtered out so we don’t have it going throughout our fire station,” said Evans.
Some of the common types of occupational cancer among firefighters are pancreatic, colon and lymphatic cancer.
Evans said there are currently a handful of their own firefighters battling cancer and the department is doing everything it can to support them.
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