March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month!


Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Photo Courtesy of Landon Jensen

Dedicated To Captain Andy Troncale – Arcadia Fire Dept.

I always liked to say I was Andy’s training captain, because as young boys we would set fires in my parents’ backyard and play “firefighter.” Andy was the smart one. I provided the training center (my parents’ backyard), which meant I was stuck with the evidence while Andy rode his bike home, another successful “training” session complete.

Though my dad wasn’t in the fire service, I swear he was a fire investigator in a past life. Andy and I always took pains to cover our tracks from the fires we set, but my dad managed to find the burn patterns, the point of origin and the Ohio blue tips used for ignition along with burned wood, debris and weeds.

I’d get the belt, and Andy, well, he was always “such a good boy.”

We joined the Los Angeles County Fire Department Explorers at an early age. We got hired right out of high school and began our firer service careers, never looking back. Both excited and proud to be firefighters!

Unfortunately, all the training and years on the job can’t stop the risks associated with being a firefighter, police officer, first responder. In fact, it increases our risk of heart attacks, cancer, diseases and injuries.

Andy succumbed to colorectal cancer on Jan. 23, 2012, at just 52 years old. It was a tough battle; anyone who knew Andy knew he was tough. But not tough enough to win this fight.

In 2013, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published the results of a study of firefighters and cancer rates. The study showed a combined population of 30,000 firefighters from three large cities had higher rates of several types of cancers, and of all cancers combined, than the U.S. population as a whole.

The cancers with the highest rates in the study were cancers of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems, indicating that firefighters are more likely to develop those cancers. Although understanding of the link between firefighting and cancer is now widespread, this study was a landmark in raising awareness.

Similar results had been seen in previous smaller studies, but the NIOSH study measured a much larger population over a longer period. There is still much we do not know about the cancer risks firefighters face, but the fact that we do face increased risks of certain cancers is beyond doubt.

And that brings me back to Andy. His death was ruled a line-of-duty death, caused by job-related colorectal cancer. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third-most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States. Of cancers that kill both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second-leading killer.

Colorectal cancer affects people in all racial and ethnic groups. It’s most often found in people age 50 and older, but recent research suggests that risk may be shifting. A report published Feb. 28, 2017, found that someone born in 1990 would have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer at the same age had they been born in 1950.

So, the risk appears to be increasing, firefighters are at higher risk for cancer in general, and colorectal cancer survival rates are low if not detected early. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s a clarion call to take action:

  • If you’re over 50, get a regular colonoscopy or other screening test your doctor recommends.
  • No matter your age, watch for symptoms: blood in or on your stool, stomach pain or cramps that don’t go away and/or unexplained weight loss.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, or try to lose weight if you’re obese or overweight.
  • Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in animal fat.

March is the month dedicated to raising awareness about colorectal cancer. Perhaps you can share this with members in your organization to spread the word — and maybe save the life of someone like Andy Troncale.


Here’s more about my friend, Andy (originally published

The Arcadia Fire Department released the following statement:

“With heavy hearts, the officers and members of the Arcadia Fire Department announce the line of duty death of Fire Capt. Andy Troncale”

The statement continued. “As a senior captain, (Troncale) embodied the finest qualities of a true firefighter.”

Department officials say exposure to carcinogens through his job caused Troncale’s cancer.

Troncale began his career as an explorer with Los Angeles County Fire Department. He also worked for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection prior to joining the Arcadia Fire Department in 1979.

He received several awards during his career, including the City of Arcadia Exceptional Service Award and Arcadia Fire Department Firefighter of the Year.

Troncale is survived by his wife of 25 years, Debbie, and their three sons: Clark, 22, Chad, 20, and Clint, 16.

Fire Chief Tony Trabbie said the Department, in conjunction with the , has begun making plans for Troncale’s funeral services. Information on those services remains forthcoming.

Troncale had served the department for 30 years before he retired in May 2009.

About Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as fire chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale, Calif.