Local firefighters supporting new registry tracking cancer risk

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – They put their lives on the line every day but now many firefighters are facing an even tougher fight. In a recent study by the CDC, it found firefighters to be at a higher risk for developing cancer.

The agency is now setting up a voluntary cancer registry that will track who is getting sick and why. President Trump signed it into law in July.

Pike Township Fire Department already does its own tracking. Twenty-five of their firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer and six of them passed away.

"This number of course is alarming for how high it is," said Deputy Chief Chris Bachman.

The most common form of cancer in their department is skin but nearly just as many were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Of the 25 firefighters, all but one of them have been on the job for more than 20 years.

Deputy Chief Chris Bachman beat skin cancer and he has been cancer free for more than a year. Doctors caught it after an annual skin check and he's not sure if it was related to the job.

"It does make you question that is the spot right along the forehead where you wear a helmet," he said.

He supports a new national registry by the CDC. On its website, the agency says the registry will help provide more complete and representative information about fire fighters in the U.S. so that we may better understand the link between workplace exposures and cancer.

"It’s going to provide a good means for firefighters to document those exposures of the fires they have been on," said Deputy Chief Bachman.

Wayne Township Fire takes this seriously too. Firefighters make sure to wear their breathing apparatus and wash their gear after a call. It became more of a concern when one of their own died of throat cancer a few years ago. Donald Hochstetler was 53.

"That really made it a wake-up call to say hey we really need to look at this much closer," said Captain Mike Pruitt.

Wayne Township firefighters also do their own tracking on an app by the State Fire Marshal's Office. Cancer has now become a topic they talk about every day.

"We didn’t do a very good job of that years ago. We are doing a much better job now," Captain Pruitt said.

Firefighters hope this voluntary database finds some answers so they can keep doing their job but in a safe way.

Pike Township Fire received a competitive federal grant over the summer. It will allow all of their firefighters to get a skin cancer screening hopefully every year.