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Cancer prevention committee created for Buffalo's firefighters after new study highlights job-related illnesses

Roswell Park and Buffalo Fire Department partnership
Firefighter boots
Posted at 6:09 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 18:16:33-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — There is a group effort to help protect firefighters from the risks of cancer.

Firefighters have a 9% higher risk of getting cancer, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Their risk of cancer-related deaths is 14% higher than the average person.

The City of Buffalo Fire Department and Roswell Park have formed a new cancer prevention committee.

While firefighters take on one of the toughest jobs to keep us safe, their mission puts them at risk for one of the toughest diseases known to man: cancer.

FILE - This microscope image made available by the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research in 2015 shows human colon cancer cells with the nuclei stained red. Cancer is a disease of the genome, or full set of instructions for running cells, that occurs when changes in a person’s DNA cause cells to grow and divide uncontrollably. (NCI Center for Cancer Research via AP)

"They go into these buildings and they are exposed to so much. A burning building, especially some of the older buildings, in our community. It's so important for them that we stay on top of this to protect our health. We know that there is a 60% increased risk for lung cancer among fire fighters and a 6-fold increase in breast cancer among female fire fighters," Roswell Park president, CEO and M&T presidential chair, Dr. Candace Johnson said.

Roswell Park, along with the City of Buffalo Fire Department and its union Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282, have established a cancer prevention committee. It will meet regularly to keep firefighters' health in the spotlight.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown explained, "Faster detection leads to faster treatment. Less downtime with a fire fighter, with a greater chance of survival."

This includes head-to-toe annual, medical screenings to identify early signs of cancer and have it treated.

The second initiative is early decontamination by the use of special wipes to remove the soot, hard metals and chemicals, found on firefighters.

The third initiative will provide improved, personal protective clothing and equipment.

Mayor Brown said, "Thanks to the generosity of Roswell Park, the Buffalo Fire Department was able to procure decontamination wipes. They are similar to baby wipes but they are designed to remove dirt, oil and soot of exposed skin. This is to remove the risks of harmful toxins and contaminants, immediately after a fire."

"Modern homes are now filled with vinyl, plastics and chemicals that have been sprayed onto carpets to make them less combustible. Unfortunately, these same products are now found to be contributing to various forms of cancer among members of the fire service," Buffalo Fire Department commissioner William Ronaldo said.

Roswell Park launched a first responders screening program in the fall of 2020, according to Dr. Johnson. Since then, they have screened more than 250 first responders for cancer, even with COVID-19 procedures and protocols in place.