11 best practices for preventing firefighter cancer outlined in new report put out by VCOS and NVFC

The International Association of Fire Chiefs' Volunteer and Combination Officers Section (VCOS) and the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) released a comprehensive report providing key steps to reduce risk factors in the fire service. The Lavender Ribbon Report, named after the symbol for general cancer awareness, highlights best practices to ensure that the risk of occupational cancer is minimized for first responders.

The Firefighter Cancer Alliance reports that cancer is the second leading cause of deaths for firefighters in the U.S.; while NIOSH statistics show that firefighters have both a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population. To help reduce these numbers and stimulate cultural, behavioral shifts in the fire service, VCOS and NVFC have identified the following key actions.

  1. Full personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn throughout the entire incident, including a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) during salvage and overhaul. 
    Since 1973, NFPA has worked to ensure that  firefighter protective clothing and equipment is shielded from thermal, physical, and environmental hazards they may encounter via NFPA 1971 Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting  and NFPA 1977 Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Fire Fighting
  2. A second hood should be provide to all entry-certified personnel in the department. 
    Protective hoods are designed to protect a firefighter's head and neck. Use this safety bulletin to drive the point home in your firehouse.
  3. Following exit from an immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) incident and while still on air, you should begin immediate gross decontamination of PPE using soapy water and a brush if weather conditions allow. PPE should then be placed into a sealed plastic bag and placed in an exterior compartment of the apparatus, or, if responding in personally owned vehicles, placed in a large storage tote, thus keeping the off-gassing PPE away from passengers and self.
  4. While still on scene, the exposed areas of the body (neck, face, arms and hands) should be wiped off immediately using wipes, removing as much soot as possible from exposed areas.
    Wipes should not be used in lieu of a shower, but can prevent carcinogens from entering the skin immediately. 
  5. Change your clothes and wash them after exposure to products of combustion or other contaminants. 053017_firefighter training_0243
    NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting offers great insight on PPE.  
  6. “Shower within the hour.” 
    Let's hope this slogan catches on in fire departments around the globe.
  7. PPE, especially turnout pants, must be prohibited in areas outside the apparatus floor (i.e., kitchen, sleeping areas, etc.) and should never be in the living quarters.
  8. Wipes, or soap and water, should also be used to decontaminate and clean apparatus seats, SCBA and interior crew areas regularly, especially after incidents where personnel were exposed to products of combustion. 
    New vehicle enhancements including air filtration systems to remove contaminated particles from vehicles and non-SCBA seats to help prevent contamination from air packs entering the cab may also help minimize risk. 053017_firefighter training_0197
  9. Get an annual physical, as early detection is key to survival. 
    The American Cancer Society also suggests regular physical activity, limiting alcohol intake, and knowing your family history and potential risks.
  10. Tobacco products of any variety, including dip and e-cigarettes, should never be used at any time, on or off duty. 
    It's not surprising that the likelihood of getting cancer is significantly higher for firefighters using tobacco products.
  11. Fully document all fire or chemical exposures on incident reports and personal exposure reports.
    Documentation is essential to establish clear correlation between a firefighter's work and his/her health. Record-keeping helps others to see the extent of exposure that a firefighter experiences in his/her career.

It's time to reverse occupational exposure in the fire service, and The Lavender Report offers career and volunteer departments bite size safety morsels that could vastly improve health and wellness in the fire service.

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