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Cancer poses safety threat to firefighters

Posted: 5:43 PM, Apr 15, 2016
Updated: 2016-04-15 18:02:50-04

INDIANAPOLIS -- Fires kill about 20 to 30 firefighters every year. Cancer kills hundreds more. 

Indianapolis firefighter Joel Johnston died in October, just seven months short after his first diagnosis with cancer. 

And, as much as they try, firefighters cannot totally protect themselves from the dozens of poisonous gases and known carcinogens generated by today's fires. 

"There's not really a fabric that we can wear that will protect from heat, wick moisture and protects from nanoparticles," Chief Bobby Halton said. 

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Cancer is a looming threat for each and every firefighter. And while an individual in the fire service is at a 45 percent greater risk for contracting cancer than the general population, pinpointing the cause is difficult because of multiple exposures over multiple years. 

Morgan County's Green Township Volunteer Fire Department has just 3,100 volunteers. But twice in the past 18 months, it's had two firefighters die of cancer. 

In the small town of Paragon, the volunteer fire department lost a firefighter to cancer just fourteen months ago. The death serves as a constant reminder of the hidden dangers of the profession. 

Indianapolis is among the first departments in the country to adopt and implement all of the recommendations by the firefighter cancer support network. Sadly, it's not enough to insulate our firefighters from disease. 

First responders, still wrestling with the horrific magnitude of the problem and the challenges of cancer in the fire service. 

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