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In wake of Wayne Township firefighter death, departments open up on protecting against cancer

Protecting firefighters against cancer
Posted at 6:29 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 20:03:42-04

INDIANAPOLIS — According to the CDC, cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters.

The Wayne Township Fire Department is currently grieving the loss of one of its own because of cancer.

The department announced the loss of Richard "Hank" Potter, 65, on May 10.

“Anytime we lose a firefighter in the line of duty it’s something that we can’t necessarily control, and it takes a toll on us,” Wayne Township Ladder 82 Captain Todd Taylor said.

Taylor says he and Potter were close friends, having known each other since 1989.

“In June of last year Hank started developing some pain we sent him to the hospital later that day and we found out that he had cancer. About a week later we found out it was going to be terminal. About five days later (we learned) about 5 percent of the people survive from pancreatic cancer,” Taylor said.

Felicity Morgan serves as the Division Chief of Health and Safety for the Wayne Township Fire Department. She said that safety protocols are in place for firefighters when they are on duty.

“So, firefighters rinse of their gear on the scene, they have wipes they can clean off their skin and they can come back and shower within the hour and then we have gear washers where firefighters can wash their gear after a fire,” Morgan said.

Morgan said firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing carcinogens when they fight fires. That exposure sometimes lingers on the firefighter’s gear.

“The reason why our gear will never protect us is, we have what is known as the bellows effect," Morgan said. "(It is) Where openings in the pant legs as they slide over the boots allow air and some particulates to come up,” Morgan said.

Morgan says that there are manufacturers working on upgrading their gear. She said the department has recently changed the hoods that fire crews wear to protect their ears and necks.

“Now they are designed like gears with a vapor barrier in the middle to help stop those particulates from getting through,” Morgan said.

On Wednesday, May 19, services will take place for Potter. The Wayne Township Fire Department has welcomed to public to line the roads of the processional route which will start at the Grand Hall Conference Center on North High School Road.

The remainder of the route is as follows:

  • South on High School Road to West Washington Street
  • East of West Washington Street to a stop at Wayne Township Fire Station 82
  • North on Lyndhurst Drive to 10th Street
  • East on 10th Street to Indiana Memorial Funeral Care for a private ceremony