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.

Smoke across the U.S.

There is so much smoke from so many sources that it is becoming difficult to determine the origin. Today’s smoke map generated by NOAA is very different from the one yesterday. The visibility here in South Dakota is about two miles due to smoke. I just talked with someone in Billings, MT and he said it is about the same there.

So you tell me. Is the smoke in South Dakota coming from the fires in California, or Canada? It seems unlikely it could be coming from both, as the map seems to indicate. Maybe the California smoke is blown to the north occasionally, then later a west wind blows that plume to the east.

Smoke–nationwide (almost)

On June 28 we posted a map that showed smoke plumes from California reaching east all the way to Missouri. Today there is even more smoke across the U.S. but most of it is not from the California fires. It originates in Canada, California, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

On the map below, the red dots are fires and the gray areas are smoke.

Investigators report on the Florida I-4 fog/smoke incident

fog-smokeInvestigators have released a report on the Florida January 8 incident that we reported on in which smoke from an escaped prescribed fire may have mixed with fog causing poor visibility on Interstate 4 resulting in five fatalities in vehicle crashes. The report issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says:

“…an unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”

Tampa Bay Online has more details:

“TALLAHASSEE – A state investigation has cleared wildlife officials who last month lost control of a prescribed burn that may have contributed to a 70-vehicle pileup on Interstate 4 in Polk County.

The investigation by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services concluded changing weather conditions Jan. 8 caused the 10-acre planned burn to jump firelines and spread to 400 acres. The National Weather Service said smoke from the fire could have combined with fog the next morning to cut visibility on the highway to nearly zero.

Five people died in the predawn pileup and resulting fires, prompting questions about how the fire got out of control and whether the state should have held a controlled burn in the dry season less than a mile from the interstate.

The Florida Highway Patrol is conducting a homicide investigation that also will look at whether smoke from the wildfire played a part in the wrecks.

The report by the Agriculture Department’s law enforcement division states those in charge of the fire followed correct procedures but that an “unpredictable change in weather caused the prescribed burn to burn erratically which resulted in spot fires.”

“There does not appear to be any evidence of criminal violations or gross negligence” by those involved in the burn, investigators concluded in their report.

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission employees conducting the burn reported that the humidity had dropped sharply about an hour after the fire was set at 10 a.m. and winds picked up, spreading the fire outside the protective earthen barriers.

The National Weather Service confirms there was a drop in humidity at the fire site, but meteorologists said that could have been caused by the fire. As warm air from a fire rises, it forces drier air downward. Drier air aids the spread of fire, especially when rainfall has been sparse for a long period.

Daniel Noah, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the agency has no way of knowing whether wind speeds around the fire picked up or wind directions changed. However, Noah did not rule out that possibility.”

A preliminary report issued by the Florida Highway Patrol does not even mention the prescribed fire.

Smoke From Escaped Rx Fire and/or Fog Contribute to 3 Deaths & 50-Car Pileup


According to reports, smoke from an escaped prescribed fire combined with fog contributed to a 50-car pileup and three deaths on Interstate 4 in Florida between Orlando and Tampa. ABC Action News reported yesterday, January 8:

“POLK COUNTY– Crews are working to put out an oversized brush fire in Polk County.

Officials with the Division of Forestry say they issued a 50 acre prescribed burn today in the area of Old Grade Road and I-4.

They believe the wind may have led the fire to grow by an extra 200 acres.

They say no homes are being threatened at this time.

There are concerns that if the fire burns overnight, drivers may face smoky conditions by Wednesday morning.”

Then today ABC Action News further reports in a story about the incident:

“A mixture of fog and smoke from a controlled burn near Old Grade Road created extremely hazardous conditions early this morning.

The burn was supposed to cover only 50 acres, but got out of hand late yesterday and grew to more than 300 acres.

More information from MyFox Tampa Bay:

“POLK CITY – Smoke and fog are causing a surreal scene in Polk County that’s forced the closure of a stretch of Interstate 4, and contributed to a massive pile-up.

All lanes of I-4 are closed between the Polk Parkway and U.S. 27. That’s roughly from Polk City to the Osceola County line.

The lingering smoke combined with the morning fog has brought visibility down to near zero, and deputies say at least 50 vehicles are involved in the massive wreck, and 20 of those are semi-trucks. Several vehicles caught fire, though most of the blazes seemed to be out by 8:30 a.m., judging by the diminishing amount of black smoke rising from the scene.

At least three people are dead, and several more motorists are trapped and waiting for emergency crews.

Those who are unhurt are being asked to stay in their cars for their own safely and the safety of rescue workers.

Yesterday’s brush fire began as a controlled burn, but it jumped a firebreak and eventually grew to 250 acres before being contained.”


According to TheLedger.com a Division of Forestry dozer was burned in the fire yesterday.