Every time a firefighter enters a burning building, he or she is subjected to scores of carcinogens and other health hazards. Then they carry the toxins back to the station and even to their homes.
That’s a familiar scenario that members of the International Firefighter Cancer Foundation wants to change. The organization’s Virginia chapter held an April 7 seminar in Leesburg to highlight cutting-edge approaches to
curbing the high rate of cancer among first responders.
At the Leesburg Volunteer Fire Department’s Loudoun Street station, participants learned of new quantum magnetic resonance treatment that is used to treat cancer patients without subjecting them to chemotherapy, witnessed a demonstration by a dog trained to detect cancer in humans, and were updated on safety protocols aimed at limiting firefighters’ exposure to hazardous materials.
IFC President Cindy Ell took up the cause of combating cancer among first responders after many members of her Maryland fire company developed cancer from exposure to PCBs emanating from a transformer in the firehouse more than two decades ago. Her continuing research put the spotlight on the high incidence of cancer among those in the fire service globally.
“We’ve decided to come out of the shadows as an organization that really is taking the lead on some of the most cutting-edge research and work that is being done in the industry,” Ell said.
The foundation organized the Leesburg program at the urging of J.B. Anderson, a 46-year veteran of Loudoun’s fire and rescue service and Vietnam War veteran who is undergoing cancer treatment. Anderson’s enthusiasm for the organization’s work resulted in his appointment to the foundation’s national board.
The most dramatic demonstration was Janice Wolf and Wyatt, a Rhodesian ridgeback trained to use his hundreds of millions of smell receptors to detect cancer just as other canines are trained to find narcotics or cadavers. “They’re able to pick up things we couldn’t pick up even if we had an acute sense of smell,” Wolf said.
Ell pointed out that having a cancer detection dog “alert” on a person who shows no sign of illness is a good way to get them talking with their doctors and can result in earlier treatment.
Rich Rochford, a retired fire captain, traveled from Tennessee to demonstrate a new shower system designed for firefighters to wash hazardous particulates off their running gear before leaving a fire scene. Taking extra steps to be sure toxic material is left behind, he said, is part of the culture change needed in the fire service to reduce illnesses.
Longer term, the foundation is supporting efforts to promote alternate building materials—industrial hemp, among them—that don’t turn into poison when combusted.
Learn more about the foundation’s work at ffcancer.org.