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Carmel firefighters take steps to prevent the profession's silent killer — cancer

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 11:37:26-05

CARMEL — The month of January has been dedicated as Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month as cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters.

“When I first got hired, a dirty helmet, dirty gear, that was cool," Carmel firefighter Tim Griffin said. “That showed you had been there, you've been in a fire, but now, clean gear is safer and healthier.”

Griffin said he has seen a lot of changes in the nearly two decades he’s been on the job that are meant to protect firefighters from the dangers of the job.

Those dangers are not as obvious as you’d think.

“When people think of firefighters, they think of us going into burning buildings right? And it's not necessarily the danger in front of us that's going to get us. It's the danger that comes after that fire those exposures that get us two, three, four, five years down the road,” Griffin said.

Occupational cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters. Griffin said one step firefighters take to protect themselves from the dangerous carcinogens the job exposes them to is every firefighter has two sets of gear so they can be properly washed after a fire run.

“Washing helmets, you know, we wipe those down. We clean them afterwards and we even take these and all this inner lining out after the fire. Get that cleaned, washed as much as you possibly can because you don't want to have anything dirty on it,” Griffin said.

Griffin said he and his fellow firefighters also have better hoods now, which can be wiped at the scene. As soon as they are back at the station, decontamination begins.

“When we get back to station getting, the shower, 'de-conning' ourselves, you know, getting all that soot and gear and all that the crud that you've had from that fire off you and off your skin as soon as you can,”Griffin said.

Most importantly, Griffin said Carmel firefighters all undergo yearly physicals so they can get a baseline for their health and catch any changes early.

We're really trying to attack what's attacking us,” Griffin said.

The International Association of Firefighters is partnering with the American Cancer Society to work together to fight cancer in the fire service. You can learn more here.