Wilmington Fire Department talks about proactive steps to stay safe during fire fighter cancer awareness month

Wilmington Fire Department.
Wilmington Fire Department.
Updated: Jan. 22, 2023 at 6:00 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - When the call for help comes in, fire fighters at the Wilmington Fire Department don’t hesitate to hop on their engine and get to the scene.

January is dedicated as Fire Fighter Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer is a leading cause of death among fire fighters. That’s why the mission of the International Association of Fire Fighters and Firefighter Cancer Support Network is to reduce the number of men and women getting cancer in the fire service.

It’s a rigorous job that comes with risks and dangers, but Lt. Alex Fantauzzi says they are trained for anything that comes their way, including protecting themselves from getting cancer.

“Times have changed and like materials in houses have changed. [It] used to be a lot of lumber and actual cotton. Now, it’s a lot of synthetic materials. So, in general, fires have a lot more dangerous chemicals in them. So, anytime we go into a structure, we’re exposed to a lot of those through absorption of our skin,” Fantauzzi said. “Right now, the issue with our gear is there’s a chemical that’s water repellent that’s added to our gear that in and of itself is a carcinogen. So, what we try and mitigate that with is we only wear our gear when it’s necessary. So, on scene and training, aside from that, we try and not have it on because, you know, we try to limit our exposures.”

Fantauzzi says they’ve implemented some preventative measures like using soap and water to rinse off on the scene once a fire is out, and once they’re back to the station, they will hop in the shower.

To be proactive, about 90 fire fighters recently did ultrasound testing to make sure they were healthy.

“It’s also a good baseline test so we can figure out, if we do get exposed to things in the future, then we’ll have some evidence to show that we were clear beforehand,” Fantauzzi said.

In addition to recent screenings, advocates for fire fighters are pushing for better and safer measures for any cancers that might be developed on the job.