Sponsored by LION
By Rachel Zoch, FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff
The dirty little secret is out: Soot, smoke and other elements of the fireground are hazardous to your health. The effects of 9/11 on firefighters’ health drew national attention to the issue, and cancer is now widely documented as an occupational hazard in the fire service.
Recognizing occupational cancer marks a major change for the fire service, says John Granby, a former first responder and volunteer fire instructor.
“We all knew it, but we now have cause and effect that's been medically tied together,” Granby said. “Many of us who have been in the fire service for quite a while did not really know that, nor did we know why, but certain elements of your equipment may carry particulates that can be dangerous to your health.”
Granby is now vice president of government relations and corporate responsibility for LION, a family-owned and operated fire PPE and training equipment provider. In 2016, LION launched the Not In Our House program in an effort to raise awareness and provide information to help firefighters reduce their risk by taking steps to reduce their exposure to fireground toxins.
“We need to take care of our customers as best we can,” said Granby. “We need to help continuously educate them on the threats they deal with every day.”
Pledging to Stop Cancer at the Door
A 2018 survey of firefighters commissioned by LION revealed that while 95 percent believe cancer is a problem in the fire service, less than half believe their department is doing enough to decrease the risk.
Similarly, more than 90 percent said they believe that cross-contamination is a problem, but less than half said their department has on-scene decontamination procedures to address the issue – and only half said they actually follow them regularly.
Not In Our House aims to drive home the message that these procedures are critical. The program website provides resources, including key fireground decon steps, and invites readers to take the pledge:
I will make every effort to protect myself and my team by doing my part to take precautions that will minimize the risk of exposure to carcinogens that may lead to cancer. This pledge is to honor all those who have come before, as well as those who will come after me.
Those who take the pledge are encouraged to share why they want to take action. For Granby, it’s simple: Your “house” means both your station and your home.
“This is where we live,” he said. “The idea of the pledge is, I'm not going to bring harmful stuff into our house that could affect me or my fellow firefighters, and I'm not bringing my contaminated equipment home to where my family and I live every day.”
Taking Action to Reduce Exposure
Particulate exposure is an everyday fact of the job, but the goal of Not In Our House is to encourage firefighters to do what they can to reduce the risk to themselves, their colleagues and their families.
“We can't eliminate the threat, but our goal is to bring awareness, No. 1, and from awareness help change how people in the fire service do things to reduce their exposure,” said Granby. “It's all about educating and changing behavior to try and remediate those exposures.”
Some actions that firefighters can take to reduce their exposure are segregating soiled turnout gear and keeping it out of the firehouse or personal vehicles. Another is on-scene decontamination.
Firefighters are also exposed to harmful particulates during live-fire training exercises, an area Granby says is often overlooked in conversations about cancer risk. LION is working to expand its line of training props to include effective simulation training that acts just like live fire and takes the same effort to put out, but without exposing trainees to harmful combustion byproducts.
“We're not saying you should never train in live fire, because you have to,” said Granby,” but if you can prepare and develop mental and muscle memory using something that doesn't throw off all these harmful byproducts, A. you reduce your exposure, and B. you're much more in tune to be able to deal with the real thing.”