• 9 Investigates: Volunteer firefighters seek support to reduce cancer risks

    By: Brittney Johnson

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Volunteer firefighters risk their lives to save you, but some can't afford vital equipment to keep out dangerous toxins.

    Channel 9 has reported firefighters are 14 percent more likely to die of cancer than the average person and the majority of firefighters who protect us are struggling to make changes that could save their lives. 

    [ALSO READ: Volunteer firefighter loses battle with cancer, highlights national epidemic]

    Lynn Arrowood said she remembers every detail of the day her life changed and her husband, a firefighter, was diagnosed with cancer. 

    "I remember Craig hanging up the phone and looking at me and saying 'I got cancer,'" Arrowood said. "My heart went to my feet." 

    She said doctors found a large tumor in his liver and there was no cure. 

    Craig died in January 2018. 

    Arrowood said she was shocked to learn her friend's husband had the exact same rare cancer. She said the two men lived two counties apart, but they were both volunteer firefighters. 

    "So, my mind began to think, is there a correlation between firefighting and this very rare cancer that only 6,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with every year," Arrowood said. 

    There is no definitive way to link his death to firefighting, but across the nation, more leaders are trying to understand what could be putting firefighters at risk. 


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    Data shows firefighters are 14 percent more likely to die of cancer, but there are no definitive answers as to why. 

    U.S. lawmakers approved a cancer registry to help track cases. Channel 9 also reported researchers from Levine are developing a study to identify what factors could be increasing their risk. 

    While they wait for answers, departments across the state are racing implement new safeguards. 

    Jeff Cash is chief of Cherryville's fire department, which includes volunteers. He also advocates for North Carolina firefighters at the national level.

    He said this is critical because 60 percent of the state is protected by small volunteer fire departments, and he estimates that 40 percent do not have the resources they need. 

    "We need elected officials and community leaders to understand just how critical firefighter safety is," Cash said. "It should be a wakeup call. We are seeing alarming numbers and statistics at the national level. It's also starting to begin to harm us a little bit on the recruitment and retention."

    He was putting together a national report called "The Lavender Report" with 11 recommendations for protecting firefighters from dangerous toxins. 

    [RELATED: Lawmakers introduce bill to reduce risk of cancer for firefighters]

    Charlotte firefighters go through a thorough decontamination process and use a second set of turnout gear. 

    Cherryville has a system to prevent exhaust from diesel trucks from seeping into the rooms where they eat and sleep -- they must wash their gear in an extracter. 

    Cash estimates 40 percent of volunteer departments across the state do not have second sets of gear hoods. Some departments aren't even able to wash their gear. 

    [ALSO READ: CFD makes changes to cut cancer risks for firefighter]

    Ben Dunnivan with the Tryota Volunteer Department said having protective gear is more than a luxury, it can be life-saving, but the department is unable to afford it. 

    "Because we are a volunteer based department, we are not career or in a municipality so our tax base revenue is very small," Dunnivan said. "We are not able to afford the luxury of two sets of gear."

    Dunnivan said since they don't have the money, they are focusing on changing behaviors. 

    "I just want the volunteer fire departments to have more than one set of turnout gear, stricter guidelines in place for cleaning gear, and I just want the future firefighters to be protected where maybe Craig wasn't protected and Mike wasn't protected."

    [ALSO READ: Widow of Charlotte firefighter spreads awareness of cancer risks]

    Concord's department is considered a model department, working to lower cancer risks and encourage crews to keep gear as clean as possible.

    Leaders created decontamination buckets for each truck to help firefighters clean off as much debris as possible before getting back on the truck. 

    Each bucket costs roughly $95 but can be recreated with lower-cost items for roughly $30. It contains soap, cleaning wipes, brushes, a hose and large bucket.  Learn more about Concord's efforts here.

    There are some grants from some departments for gear. Some doctors or nurses sometimes offer free firefighter physicals to small departments. 


    Grant Information:

    NC Fire Marshall Grant Fund for volunteer Departments

    U.S. Fire Administration grants


    Ultimately, they are hoping lawmakers will get involved.

    Lawmakers are currently working to pass a bill that would add new cancers to the list of cancers covered under the state's death benefits for firefighters.

    It's on hold while leaders battle over budget.

    More information on the bill here.

    From: Walter, Haley (CMG-Charlotte) Sent: Sunday, August 4, 2019 5:25 PM To: WSOC, webvideo (CMG-Charlotte) Subject: Brittney Johnson Monday source code Hi everyone, Here is Brittney Johnson's source code for her series piece on fire departments and their challenges. It airs tomorrow. PREVIEW  https://www.wsoctv.com/news/9-investigates/9-investigates-challenges-fire-departments-face-to-keep-personnel-safe/972053879 Thanks! Haley Walter

    Volunteer firefighters risk their lives to save you, but some can't afford vital equipment to keep out dangerous toxins.

    Channel 9 has reported firefighters are 14 percent more likely to die of cancer than the average person and the majority of firefighters who protect us are struggling to make changes that could save their lives. 

    [ALSO READ: Volunteer firefighter loses battle with cancer, highlights national epidemic]

    Lynn Arrowood said she remembers every detail of the day her life changed and her husband, a firefighter, was diagnosed with cancer. 

    "I remember Craig hanging up the phone and looking at me and saying 'I got cancer,'" Arrowood said. "My heart went to my feet." 

    She said doctors found a large tumor in his liver and there was no cure. 

    Craig died in January 2018. 

    Arrowood said she was shocked to learn her friend's husband had the exact same rare cancer. She said the two men lived two counties apart, but they were both volunteer firefighters. 

    "So, my mind began to think, is there a correlation between firefighting and this very rare cancer that only 6,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with every year," Arrowood said. 

    There is no definitive way to link his death to firefighting, but across the nation, more leaders are trying to understand what could be putting firefighters at risk. 


    PAST COVERAGE:


    Data shows firefighters are 14 percent more likely to die of cancer, but there are no definitive answers as to why. 

    U.S. lawmakers approved a cancer registry to help track cases. Channel 9 also reported researchers from Levine are developing a study to identify what factors could be increasing their risk. 

    While they wait for answers, departments across the state are racing implement new safeguards. 

    Chief Jeff Cash sat on the National Board of Volunteer Firefighters.

    He said this is critical because 60 percent of the state is protected by small volunteer fire departments, and he estimates that 40 percent do not have the resources they need. 

    "We need elected officials and community leaders to understand just how critical firefighter safety is," Cash said. "It should be a wakeup call. We are seeing alarming numbers and statistics at the national level. It's also starting to begin to harm us a little bit on the recruitment and retention."

    He was putting together a national report called "The Lavender Report" with 11 recommendations for protecting firefighters from dangerous toxins. 

    [RELATED: Lawmakers introduce bill to reduce risk of cancer for firefighters]

    Charlotte firefighters go through a thorough decontamination process and use a second set of turnout gear. 

    Cherryville has a system to prevent exhaust from diesel trucks from seeping into the rooms where they eat and sleep -- they must wash their gear in an extracter. 

    Cash estimates 40 percent of volunteer departments across the state do not have second sets of gear hoods. Some departments aren't even able to wash their gear. 

    [ALSO READ: CFD makes changes to cut cancer risks for firefighter]

    Ben Dunnivan with the Tryota Volunteer Department said having protective gear is more than a luxury, it can be life-saving, but the department is unable to afford it. 

    "Because we are a volunteer based department, we are not career or in a municipality so our tax base revenue is very small," Dunnivan said. "We are not able to afford the luxury of two sets of gear."

    Dunnivan said since they don't have the money, they are focusing on changing behaviors. 

    "I just want the volunteer fire departments to have more than one set of turnout gear, stricter guidelines in place for cleaning gear, and I just want the future firefighters to be protected where maybe Craig wasn't protected and Mike wasn't protected."

    [ALSO READ: Widow of Charlotte firefighter spreads awareness of cancer risks]

    There are some grants from some departments for gear. Some doctors or nurses sometimes offer free firefighter physicals to small departments. 

    Ultimately, they are hoping lawmakers will get involved. 

     

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