Charlotte firefighter battled cancer, now advocates for fellow first responders

Firefighters are 14% more likely to die from cancer than the average person

“I was at the station one night and my back started hurting and I was like, ‘well this is uncomfortable’,” said Justin Barringer, a firefighter with the Charlotte Fire Department.

It was December 2018 when that discomfort sent Barringer to the doctor.

A few tests later, the husband and father of four learned he had stage-four Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“My first thought went directly to my family,” he said. “What’s going to happen? Where are we going to go from here? I started to realize after looking it up that it is one of the primary cancers that firefighters get on the job.”

While Barringer underwent six months of chemotherapy, he also stepped into a role created for him on the Charlotte Fire Department’s health and safety committee.

He researched how to cut exposure to cancerous toxins. Firefighters are 14% more likely to die from cancer than the general public.

Charlotte fire started aggressively stepping up prevention efforts after 2016, when it lost three of its own firefighters in one year.

The following year, WSOC-TV showed how the fire department updated cleaning protocols and started washing gear after every fire and bought a second set for everyone.

More recently, WSOC-TV has learned that the fire department has added semiannual gear inspections. Cares Act money will help it buy more washing machines and it has added annual health screenings too.

Barringer says listening to his body may have saved his life.

“Knowing something wasn’t right, I actually got to catch my cancer really early, which benefited me in the long run, which made it that much more survivable at the time,” he said.

Now he’s back sharing his story to save lives.

“I feel like I’m making an impact. I get to help them enjoy life,” Barringer said. “They will get to live a nice healthy life, hopefully never having to go through what I went through with cancer.”

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.