Baldwin Firefighters Battling Increased Cancer Risk, Providing Advanced Health Coverage

BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WPMI) — Fire departments across the country continue to work toward improving the health of their firefighters as synthetic materials inside many modern homes are increasing the risk of cancer for those battling the flames.

Baldwin County fire departments are doing their part to minimize the chemical exposure to their crews, and they now offer better benefits thanks to legislation which they helped pass.

Firefighters not only face the life threatening dangers of battling a roaring blaze, but the increased chance of a fight against cancer down the line.

Officials said it’s all because of the synthetic furnishings now found inside the average home.

“Those synthetic materials, when they’re involved in fire, they become very flammable and the gases that come off them are very flammable,” said Chief Joseph Darby, with the Foley Fire Department.

And it’s the chemicals in those gases which pose yet another risk to those rushing toward the flames.

“Firefighters are 10 percent more likely to develop cancer and actually 14 percent more likely to die from cancer,” Cheyenne Gates, Public Education Coordinator for the Spanish Fort Fire Department, said.

In Spanish Fort, prevention is a major focus. Firefighters are required to use decontamination equipment to wash their gear after each call.

“It doesn’t go away quickly and even after they leave, there’s still a chance of being exposed to it because it’s on the gear. It’s on the masks,” said Gates.

Bay Minette Fire Chief Mike Minchew said the particles can even get inside the gear. He said they’ve purchased special washers, and more measures are planned.

“We’re actually in the process of, hopefully, adding an extra set of gear to this year’s budget. In the event they were exposed early in the shift, they’d have an extra set to wear,” Minchew said.

This year, the state passed a firefighter cancer bill, which mandates advanced health coverage not previously provided under workman’s comp.

The legislation is thanks to the lobbying efforts of Baldwin County fire departments, and others in the fire service.

“When I first got into the fire service, you didn’t hear about cancer in the fire service. That was the least of your worries. Now, it’s a top priority,” said Minchew.

Minchew said the cancer coverage will be available for many volunteer firefighters as well, and it only costs departments an additional $12 dollars each year.


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