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Fire chiefs convention highlights firefighter cancer risk

Posted at 8:58 AM, Oct 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 11:00:54-04

MISSOULA – Firefighting is already one of the most dangerous professions and Montana’s fire chiefs learned last week that firefighters could still be in danger even if the fire is out.

The Montana State Fire Chiefs Convention in Missoula looked at new, emerging issues impacting the fire service including the new Lavender Report, which delves into the problems of firefighters and cancer.

The report, released this past summer, gives a sobering look at the risks coming to light. It includes not just the risk of fire smoke we’ve known about for years, but how burning plastics and other materials are coating firefighters in carcinogens, which opens the way for “cross contamination” as soon as the bunker gear comes off.

Big Sky Fire Department Battalion Chief Seth Barker told the chiefs they need to seriously review their operations and change the “culture” of firefighting to stop the problem.

“The Lavender Report highlights 11 best practices in the fire service for preventing and assessing cancer. It’s the topic of conversation right now,” Barker said. “We’re showing that what we’re finding out is that cancer is the leading cause of death in the fire service. We really need to address these issues, embrace these best practices, and really own it when it comes back to the fire station.”

Barker encouraged the chiefs to begin a top to bottom review of their procedures as soon as possible, including immediate decontamination protocols at the fire scene.

-Reported by Dennis Bragg/MTN News