Concord firefighters develop and adopt cancer risk mitigation practices
Friday, March 18, 2016

CONCORD – The Concord Fire Department, in partnership with the North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs and the North Carolina Chapter of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, is introducing an affordable and innovative method to help mitigate firefighter occupational cancer risks.

Recent data collected nationally and locally indicate a higher incidence of cancer among active and retired firefighters than the general population. Firefighters responding to incidents are exposed to a number of carcinogens through breathing and skin absorption. The most frequent diagnoses include skin, prostate, lung, and brain cancers.

“This information is eye opening," said Concord Fire Chief Ray Allen. "This challenges us to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep those serving our communities as safe and healthy as possible."

In 2015, a focus group compiled existing scientific information, and examined firefighter decontamination methods and other routine safety precautions. "A major component of this initiative is geared towards changing the culture of the fire service and rethinking how firefighters have historically been trained," says Travis McGaha, Concord Assistant Fire Marshal and member of North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

Historically, dirty and soiled bunker gear (or turnout gear) was viewed as a badge of honor, representing "battle scars" accumulated over a career of service. However, data has revealed that the lack of basic personal, equipment, and station hygiene presents a significant and totally preventable risk to firefighters and those around them. "We have learned that if we don’t practice proper firefighter decontamination and safety precautions, we are exposing ourselves to a much greater risk of occupational cancer," said McGaha.

As a result, the Concord Decontamination Model was developed and adopted by the department. This model is designed by firefighters for firefighters, and is noted for its feasibility and affordability—essential qualities of a successful emergency service initiative. The major focus of the Concord Model is field decontamination, which historically has not been part of standard practices.

Coupled with cancer awareness training, the Concord Fire Department now trains and requires firefighters to use exposure reduction measures such as on-scene decontamination of protective clothing, equipment, and apparatus, with more thorough decontamination back at station. The department also uses apparatus exhaust removal systems and has upgraded respiratory protection policies and equipment. With a primary goal of reducing occupational cancers and improving firefighter health, these measures can also lead to reduced medical insurance and workers compensation costs to taxpayers, as well as safer environments for visitors.

With the goal of reducing occupational cancers and improving health in the fire service, the Concord Fire Department invites its peer organizations to join this movement and make use of the practices it has proudly adopted. See the Concord Model in action in our short video, or contact the Concord Fire Department at 704-920-5516 for more information.

Media contact:
Ray Allen
Fire Chief
City of Concord Fire Department
P.O. Box 308 Concord, NC 28026-0308