LAKE ARROWHEAD (KFDX/KJTL) — In 2022, 75 percent of the names added to the wall at the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial were firefighters who died from cancer which could be attributed to occupational exposure.
The risk of cancer for firefighters is what Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month in January is meant to raise awareness for.
“We’re at risk of different things,” Lake Arrowhead VFD Chief Mike Hall said. “You get cross-contamination of lots of things when you go in structure fires, your couch burning, just the fumes and stuff that come off of that, the beds. The packing and all of that leaves off a toxic gas.”
That risk is something Lake Arrowhead VFD Chief Mike Hall knows all too well.
“Brandon came to our department,” Hall said. “He really was not here for a very long time. I did find out he had Leukemia but it was in remission at the time that he came to us and then I believe he came back, went into treatment, got better, got out, it came back again and the last time he was in the hospital for quite a while.”
Lt. Bradon Hilbers lost his battle with cancer back in 2020. It’s unclear how much of a factor, if any, being a fireman played in his diagnosis of cancer. But Hall said it’s because of Hilbers and so many others who have died from cancer, they have certain safety measures in place.
“Using the proper equipment when you’re on the call, make sure when you come back from the call that everything is decontaminated and cleaned up as it should be,” Hall said. “They have a lot of products out to wash our equipment with. You can throw it into a washing machine and wash but there are chemicals that you can put in for your laundry detergent.”
Even with the health risks associated with firefighting, Hall said he wouldn’t change being a fireman.
“I do this basically around the clock,” Hall said. “The thanks of it is far and in between but knowing at the end of the day that maybe I’ve helped somebody’s life better, makes it worthwhile.”
Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, according to research by the CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.