(Note: after we wrote this article, more information came to light, and we wrote a follow-up piece.)
NIOSH and the U.S. Fire Administration are conducting a study of cancer among firefighters. I talked with the physician/epidemiologist, Dr. Tom Hales, who is a co-investigator for the study which began in October, 2009 led by Travis Kubale, the study’s primary project officer. He said that over the next four years they will study firefighters from three fire departments: San Francisco, Chicago, and the District of Columbia. They will look at the causes of death of firefighters that have worked for the departments over the last 50 years and compare that with tumor registries in their local communities and the National Death Index for cause of death.
Dr. Hales said that they will ask the firefighters in the study if they have ever worked on wildland fires, but other than that, they will not collect data on firefighters who specialize in wildland fires. He also said that NIOSH has no plans to specifically study cancer rates among wildland firefighters, but emphasized that NIOSH has collected data on smoke exposure on active wildfires and prescribed fires (see below).
What about wildland firefighters?
It is unfortunate that wildland firefighters will not be evaluated in this study, but you have to consider that the probably-flawed TriData study only looked at structural firefighters, and the IAFF and IAFC who helped to push for this new study spend most of their energy and political capital on structural fire.
There needs to be a concerted effort to conduct a similar study on wildland firefighters. It should be led by a physician/epidemiologist and should evaluate the long term health and occurrence of cancer and other diseases among wildland firefighters. There is a lot of grant money out there and it should be possible to get some of it pointed towards this overlooked niche of firefighting.
Wildfire Today is calling out the following organizations to get together and put some pressure on FEMA, NIOSH, and the U.S. Fire Administration to get this done:
- National Park Service
- Bureau of Land Management
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Bureau of Indian Affairs
- U. S. Forest Service
- National Wildfire Coordinating Group and their Risk Mgt. Comm.
- State land management agencies
- International Association of Wildland Fire
- International Association of Fire Chiefs
- International Association of Fire Fighters
- Federal Wildland Fire Service Association
Below are links to studies about smoke exposure on wildfires, as well as excerpts from a bibliography on the same subject.