MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – Cancer continues to be the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters.
According to the International Association of Firefighters, in 2019, more than 75% of firefighters added to their Memorial Wall of Honor died from occupational cancer.
That’s why this year, the organization has designated January as Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month.
“Fire cancer is rising at an alarming rate,” said Capt. Jon Evans with the Myrtle Beach Fire Department.
To help, the department made it its mission to better protect its first responders.
“As we’ve done research over the years, the smoke is really what’s getting us more than the fire,” said Evans.
In 2019, the department received its first batch of about 30 Lion RedZone firefighter turnout gear. More than double that number will receive the new uniform next week.
Evans said the clothing is designed to block dangerous carcinogens in smoke from saturating the skin.
“That’s where we see a lot of cancer for firefighters is around the lymph nodes,” he said.
The firefighters also make sure to wipe down or take a shower immediately after battling a fire, along with cleaning their gear more often to remove dirt or soot.
“We do a gross decon where we use the big fans and kind of blow the excess smoke and things off of us,” he said.
Evans said the biggest life-saving equipment they have is an exhaust capture system now installed at all six fire stations.
When attached to a fire or rescue truck, it can help filter out toxic fumes that can accumulate in the fire station bays.
“It gets safely put out versus all the bad diesel fumes going into our station here,” Evans said.
Over the past several years, six firefighters were diagnosed with cancer within the department. All of them are currently in remission.
Evans said the goal this month is to not only protect current firefighters but to also prepare future ones.
“This is to kind of help those individuals who are coming in new or the ones that are here who have been fortunate enough to not have been affected by this yet to kind of lessen their chances,” said Evans.
Evans said the department will post a video about Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month on their Facebook page Thursday. It features one of the firefighters who was diagnosed with cancer and his experience with the disease.