Firefighter/cancer link update

From FirefighterCloseCalls:

FF CANCER UPDATE: THE IAFC AND IAFF RESPOND TO TriData/NLC Document:
As you are aware, last week, the National League of Cities released an irresponsible, misleading and confusing document produced by a management consulting firm, TriData, incredibly claiming there is no relationship between fire fighting and certain cancers. The NLC has worked against every single piece of presumptive legislation that protects fire fighters and their families….and it appears they will go to any length on their mission to save their paying membership cities money…no matter what.


The IAFF and the IAFC are on this …and will be providing factual information related to the issues of fire fighting cancer. Both the IAFC and IAFF are ardent supporters of cancer presumption laws, and are deeply concerned about the impact this report (paid for by the NLC) may have on the truth and clear facts related to critical fire fighter protections, as well as future health and safety research.

The IAFC, through the IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section, and the IAFF, have each assembled high-level teams consisting of doctorate-level academicians, medical physicians and fire service safety and health experts to thoroughly evaluate the report and provide a complete assessment and facts.

Please watch for more factual information via email, on the IAFF website, as well as the IAFC and IAFC Safety, Health and Survival Section websites and related media..

www.IAFF.org

www.IAFC.org

www.IAFCSafety.org

www.FireFighterCancerSupport.org

FEMA study shows firefighters at high risk for heart disease

On March 14 Wildfire Today reported on a study by the University of Kansas that found firefighters are more likely to have prematurely narrowed arteries, which increases their risk for strokes and heart attacks. The data shows that 22 percent of a group of 77 firefighters studied by researchers at the University of Kansas averaged 39 years old but had the blood vessels of 52-year-olds because of significant plaque buildup in their carotid arteries.

Now a FEMA-sponsored study on 300 firefighters in Georgia has more information that will be of concern to firefighters.

H. Robert Superko, MD, principal investigator in the landmark FEMA-sponsored study of firefighters aged 40 and over conducted at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta, released preliminary findings in the world’s first study of first responders at risk of suffering sudden death or other significant cardiac events. Firefighters are known to have a three hundred percent increased risk for cardiac disease as compared to other segments of the population.

“Preliminary findings show that one third of firefighters had heart disease that is unrelated to traditional risk factors, such as high cholesterol,” says Dr. Superko. “Those results are astounding and point at job duties and environment as the primary determinants for early death in our country’s first responders.”

Dr. Superko, recognized as a leading expert on lipids, cholesterol and advanced metabolic markets and their contribution to heart disease, and his team performed a comprehensive, scientific battery of sophisticated blood and imaging tests on three hundred firefighters in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Gwinnett County first responders were identified for the study following an emotional report by Fire Chief Steve Rolader, following the sudden death of one of his firefighters from cardiac arrest while fighting a house fire.

“This wasn’t the first firefighter in my department to die but I wanted to do something to make it among the last,” says Chief Rolader. “This man was 53 years old, in great physical shape and he had no known symptoms of heart disease. We also had lost several newly-retired firefighters to sudden cardiac death. There had to be a way to stop it.”

Wildfire news, February 27, 2009

Siren maker loses civil suit about hearing loss

Federal Signal, a company that makes sirens and light bars for emergency vehicles, lost a civil suit filed by nine firefighters in Cook County, Ill. who claimed they suffered hearing loss from exposure to loud fire-truck sirens. The company, which has successfully warded off many previous hearing-loss lawsuits, says they will appeal the decision and they will “fight aggressively to overturn this verdict.”

Australian fires

The town of Marysville. February 12, 2009. Photo: AAP

The southerly wind change that was expected to increase the threat of fires near Melbourne is occurring more slowly than expected but should reach the area in a matter of hours. Firefighters have been able to keep the four large fires that are still uncontrolled from spreading further.

Esperanza fire trial

In closing arguments on Thursday, the attorney defending Raymond Oyler, on trial for setting the 2006 Esperanza fire in southern California in which five USFS firefighters died, said his client DID set as many as 11 arson fires in 2006 but not the Esperanza fire. The attorney said that even though all of the fires were set with combinations of wooden matches and cigarettes, the way they were configured for the Esperanza fire was different from the other fires.

Oyler’s girlfriend told police he had bragged to her about setting fires and was disappointed that they were not larger. When she threatened to leave him if he kept setting the fires, he quit for six months, Michael Hestrin, the prosecutor said.

Hestrin told the jury, “Raymond Oyler set this fire and killed these five brave men. Hold him accountable for murder. That’s what he did. He killed these men.”

The jury began deliberations this morning at 9:15 after the judge gave them their instructions.

If you have information about the trial, send us an email (click on my photo at the very bottom of the page) or call us on the phone by clicking the “Call Me” button on the right side of this page.

Esperanza fire photo gallery

The LA Times has a collection of 16 photos of the Esperanza fire. Here is one.


UPDATE: 6:55 P.M. PT, Feb. 27

The jury ended their first day of deliberations on Friday without reaching a verdict. The four-man, eight-woman panel will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday.

Cancer among Seattle firefighters

Wildfire Today has covered cancer among firefighters previously, but more information continues to be available about this risk.  Here is an excerpt from an article in the Seattle PI:

==================================================

Cancer takes heavy toll on Seattle firefighters
City defends itself against charge it could do more

By KATHY MULADY AND CASEY MCNERTHNEY
P-I REPORTERS

Dave Jacobs started fighting fires when he was 20. It was the only job he ever
wanted. He battled brush fires in California, house fires in Oregon and fires of every kind in more than two decades with the Seattle Fire Department.
Now 57, Jacobs is fighting cancer.

Seattle firefighters cancer chartA year ago he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. There are days when he can barely swallow a few spoons of soup. The disease has progressed to his liver and lymph system.

Cancer is a presumptive disease in firefighters — more than a third of Seattle firefighters hired before 1977 have developed some form of the illness. Under Washington law, seven forms of cancer are assumed to be job related when they are diagnosed in a firefighter.

But there are many other cancers that aren’t on the list, forcing men such as Jacobs to prove that their illnesses were job related to get workers’ compensation. Seattle firefighters say the city is not doing enough to help screen them for cancers and other health risks. City officials are sympathetic but question the effectiveness and cost of health screenings.

“My heart goes out to the other firefighters who have yet to be diagnosed,” Jacobs said. “This job is a killer.”

According to the International Association of Firefighters, more union firefighters died of cancer in 2007 than from heart attacks or fire-related injuries combined. Nationally, there were 38 union firefighters who died last year from cancer, 16 from heart attacks and 10 from fire-related causes. That trend is continuing in 2008.

It is assumed that if a Washington firefighter who was on the job for 10 years develops prostate cancer before age 50, or brain cancer, bladder or kidney cancer, malignant melanoma or several others, it was in the line of duty.
In this state, three of five active firefighters who died this year were cancer victims. The other two died fighting California wildfires.

Seattle Battalion Chief James Scragg — a survivor of the deadly Pang warehouse fire — died of lung cancer Jan. 17 at age 54. Seattle firefighter Tim Heelan, 43, also died in January after melanoma spread to his lungs and spine.

Marty Hauer, a Kent firefighter who traveled the nation teaching fitness seminars to other firefighters, stunned colleagues when he revealed that he had thymic carcinoma, a rare thymus gland cancer. He died in June at 41. Dozens of others are fighting the disease.

Of 975 firefighters hired in Seattle before 1977, about 350 have been diagnosed with cancer, and 43 of the men were younger than 60 when diagnosed, according to numbers from the Seattle Firefighters Pension Board.

September 11 and firefighters

Seven years after the September 11 attacks we are still seeing the effects among firefighters and other workers who were exposed to the contaminated air around the collapsed World Trade Center towers.  In addition to the thousands of local responders that worked at “ground zero”, Type 1 incident management teams comprised mostly of wildland firefighters were there as well.  I wonder if anyone is conducting any organized tracking of the health of those team members?

Here is an excerpt from The ReviewJournal article that is centered around a New York City sanitation worker who spent months at ground zero:
According to the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Medical Center, the rate of exposure-related illness is 70 percent among the 40,000 ground zero workers it monitors. This includes 12,000 New York Fire Department firefighters and 3,000 emergency medical technicians as well as 25,000 police officers, other firefighters, volunteers, transit workers, communications workers, construction workers, building cleaners and sanitation workers.
“The highest frequency of disease is in the people who were most heavily exposed,” says Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the program.
Quaranti says that some of the 1,500 sanitation workers on site are already dead of what he believes to be exposure-related illnesses.
“A couple of guys died from cancer, a couple had liver problems,” he says.
Causality is a hotly contested issue, however. When asked how many first responders have died as a result of their exposure, Landrigan replies: “I couldn’t begin to tell you.”
Michael Roberts scans a photo hanging in the office of the house he and his wife own in Henderson. It shows Roberts and six other New York-Presbyterian Hospital EMTs rushing toward the towers as they blazed.
According to Roberts, the rate of illness in those pictured is 100 percent.
“Jack Delaney, the guy in the white helmet and blue jacket, he has asthma and nodules on his lungs now,” the 59-year-old says. “John Bergman, he has asthma. Tony DiTomasso, he’s behind me. He’s got asthma, too.
“The other guys, they’re all on inhalers.”

Cancer risk for firefighters

We are not aware of any specific study that has been completed on the occurrence of cancer among wildland firefighters, but there is enough data out there about structural firefighters that make this a major concern.  Wildfire Today has covered this before, but the Spokane Spokesman-Review has a new disturbing article about a local cancer cluster.  Here is an excerpt.

Doug Bacon missed the funeral of a fellow Spokane firefighter because the 59-year-old was in treatment for throat cancer – the same illness that had just killed his friend and co-worker.
A third Spokane firefighter who joined the department with Bacon in the 1970s also has been diagnosed with throat cancer.
“It’s to the point we’re trying to figure out which fire we were all on together,” said Bacon, who survived his cancer and returned to the job in mid-2006. “I’ve got attitude. I fought it.”
Firefighters are at least twice as likely to get cancer as the average person because of exposure to toxins emitted in fires, such as benzene, asbestos and cyanide, studies say. More firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer in the past two years than in the previous 10 years, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and recent studies.
When Bacon was diagnosed with cancer in January 2006, he said he just looked at the doctor and said: “You’re kidding me.” He was unaware at the time that firefighters were more susceptible to the disease. Now, he’s constantly warning young firefighters of the dangers and telling them to keep their masks on – even after the fire’s out.
During July, Spokane area firefighters fought blazes nearly every day, including the massive Valley View wildfire, and two three-alarm fires – The Ugly Duck and Joel building.
Despite wearing protective gear, some walked away from those blazes hacking and coughing. Authorities say asbestos – a cancer-causing agent often found in old building materials – was found in the Joel building.
Research is still being done to determine what level of exposure leads to cancer in firefighters, officials say. Meanwhile, the illness has become a primary concern for the profession.
“Finally we are taking our blinders off when it comes to cancer,” said Michael Dubron, founder and president of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. Dubron is a cancer survivor and Los Angles firefighter. “With our organization, we are trying to be proactive, such as reducing unnecessary exposure. No longer is it cool to run around with soot-covered uniforms and equipment.”
The soot contains many of the same toxins firefighters are exposed to during a blaze, officials say.
Something Wildfire Today wrote on May 28 is worth repeating:
In Canada, the British Columbia government recognizes as an occupational hazard for firefighters the following diseases:
  • testicular cancer
  • lung cancer in non-smokers
  • brain cancer
  • bladder cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • ureter cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • leukemia
This means that full-time, volunteer, part-time, and paid on-call firefighters suffering from the diseases will qualify for worker’s compensation and benefits, without having to prove individually that the diseases are linked to their jobs.
There is not a lot that wildland firefighters can do to avoid breathing the byproducts of combustion.  There is no such thing as a breathing apparatus containing clean air that can be carried for a 16-hour shift.
The various filter masks that are sometimes bought by wildland firefighters do nothing except filter out some of the larger particles, sticks, and rocks.  The microscopic smoke particulates are so small, that if one were near the ceiling in a room with still air, it would take about eight hours to fall to the floor.  And the masks do nothing to remove the various toxic gasses and other contaminates.
We need to establish a system to track the long term health and cancer occurence within the wildland firefighter community.