Heightened risk of cancer is one of the most dangerous aspects of the job for America’s firefighters. Both the Cancer Support Network and International Association of Firefighters have come out and said that cancer is actually the number one cause of death among firefighters. According to the CDC and NIOSH, firefighters are 9% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than the average American. The reasons for this are many. First, fires are becoming more and more toxic with the use of synthetic materials in construction and home furnishings. Repeated exposure to these toxic chemicals directly contribute to the heightened risk of cancer among firefighters. Second, many firefighters do not have the proper safety equipment needed to protect them from toxic smoke due to underfunding and budget cuts.
Now, researchers are looking into whether or not this heightened risk of cancer is being passed on to the children of firefighters, and their findings may surprise you. A recent study by the Kitsap County, Washington Fire Rescue suggests that this heightened risk of cancer is being passed down to the children of firefighters.
Using U.S. Census Bureau data as a baseline, researchers determined that 1.79 out of 10,000 children 18 years or younger have been diagnosed with cancer. In other words, 0.0179% of children in the United States has been diagnosed with some form of cancer. The researchers then compared this finding with cancer rates among the children of firefighters in Kitsap County, and the results are alarming. From the report:
“A child of a Kitsap County career firefighter has a 0.49% chance of getting cancer. This probability is 27.4 times higher than that of the general population of children. Put another way, the child of a Kitsap County firefighter is 27 times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than a child in the general population of children.”
This is a staggering statistic and one that should alarm anyone involved in public policy affecting firefighters in the United States. More research is needed on the effects of cancer in children of firefighters, but the study out of Kitsap County should, at the very least, spark deeper investigations of the risk of cancer in the families of firefighters.
One thing is clear, however. Firefighters are facing long-term health threats as a result of their job, and in some instances, these risks can be mitigated if firefighters are given the proper, most up-to-date safety equipment available. Too often, fire departments are forced to survive on budgets so small that they cannot afford the equipment necessary to mitigate the risk of cancer. The unfortunate reality is that many local governments do not provide proper funding for their fire departments which has directly led to the growing cancer epidemic among America’s firefighters, and possibly their families.