Widow of Charlotte firefighter spreads awareness of cancer risks

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The widow of a Charlotte firefighter who died after battling cancer is speaking for the first time about one of the biggest risks heroes face.

Earlier in November, Charlotte Fire Department officials walked Channel 9 through the new steps it is taking to protect firefighters from cancer risks.

Mary Tinsley agreed that more needs to done.

In 2010, she was expecting her first child with her husband, Charlotte firefighter Seth Tinsley.

“He could work on big trucks, and you know, help people because he had such a giving spirit,” Tinsley said.

When she was eight months pregnant, terrible headaches sent Seth to the doctor.

"They saw a tumor the size of a man's fist in his brain and the tech was like, 'Oh my gosh,’” Tinsley said.

The devastating diagnosis forced Seth to step away from fighting fires to fight for his life.

"He was 29, a firefighter, he was an awesome mechanic, healthy as all. You don't think that is going to happen, and it can," Tinsley said.

Over the next six years, the Tinsleys welcomed their daughters Clara and Rachel, and Seth endured multiple surgeries before dying in 2016. He was one of three Charlotte firefighters who died from cancer in 2016.

The department formed a cancer task force and developed new protocols for removing toxic gear.

When Seth's family traveled to Colorado to see the International Association of Fire Fighters add his name to a memorial wall of firefighters who died in the line of duty, his brothers from CFD station 18 went along.

"They are awesome," Tinsley said.

Tinsley said they've stayed by her side, helping with home repairs and even planning to decorate for Christmas. She said she hopes Seth's story reminds firefighters to protect themselves so they can be around for their families.

Tinsley found a note in Seth's books from rookie camp that she said proves he knew what was at stake when he signed up to save lives.

"It said brain cancer was one of the causes of death for firefighters because of the chemical exposure," Tinsley said. "Being a firefighter, it was worth the risk for him."

Tinsley said she’s hoping more will be done to protect men and women who put their lives on the line for others.

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

The CFD cancer task force is partnering with Levine Cancer Institute for free cancer screenings. Leaders also hope to conduct more research.

Visit the International Association of Fire Fighters website to learn more about the steps the organization is taking to raise awareness about cancer risks.

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