Firefighters fight to reduce their risk of getting cancer

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - Cancer is now the leading cause of death for firefighters nationwide and firefighters in Hamilton County are looking for ways to minimize their chances of getting the disease.

“The fact that all these carcinogens have come for the forefront, which is why so many guys in their 50’s are getting cancer, all kinds of different cancers, that is when it really became clear to me what our biggest battle is right now," Noblesville Firefighter Steven Honeycutt said.

Cancer was one the big issues discussed Tuesday at the first every Safety Summit for Hamilton County firefighters. All the agencies in Hamilton County and some from Boone County gathered in Noblesville to discuss the safety of crews out in the field.

The rate of cancer among firefighters is increasing at an alarming rate. At one point in time, 10 percent of firefighters in Pike Township were battling the disease, IAFF Local 4416 President Tony Murray said.

“That raises some red flags and makes someone wonder why is that happening and to dig a little deeper to find the source," Murray said.

Murray explained most experts contribute the increased rate of the disease among firefighters to the materials in the fires they fight.

“Everything in a house now from the carpet to the wall coverings to the ceiling and furniture," Murray said. "Is made of a chemical property that when put under fire releases a whole myriad of chemicals that are absorbed or breathed in.”

This is now causing firefighters to take extra precautions during and after they've fought a fire. Crews are now required to keep their breathing apparatuses on for the entire time they are on the scene of a blaze, not just when they are fighting flames. Also, crews in Hamilton County now clean their gear and their bodies off in the field before returning the fire station, take a shower after every fire and wash all their gear before putting it back on.

"If the gear is bad enough we will bag it up set it in a separate compartment outside the cab and then we bring it back here and wash it in the machines," Honeycutt said.

Right now, all the agencies represented at the summit have adopted the best practices provided by the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, but chiefs, training officers and firefighters say they are committed to continuing to improve those practices.