Best Practices for Preventing Firefighter Cancer


Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Photo Courtesy of Landon Jensen

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), Volunteer and Combination Officers Section (VCOS) and National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) have all hosted important cancer prevention and awareness sessions and programs. Statistics have repeatedly shown that occupational cancer is a serious threat to firefighters. We all need to change what we are doing each day so that we lessen our risks.

As firefighters we’re really good at taking command and controlling fires and incidents of all types. One battle we have a lot to work on is controlling the battle against cancer. April is Cancer Control month. The NFFF, IAFC, VCOS, and the NVFC have put together the below “Lavender Ribbon Report BEST PRACTICES for Preventing Firefighter Cancer.”

What cancer is doing to our fire/rescue/EMS family is a fact. This new awareness is our call to action. There will never be a time more important than now to take personal responsibility to act!

This report outlines 11 best practices to live by—each and every day—so we can change the culture that is killing our first responders.

The nation’s fire service is clearly seeing the adverse effects of firefighters getting cancer due to the carcinogens and other contaminates picked up in fires, overhaul, training and residual off-gassing from our PPE. Cancer has become the second leading cause of deaths for firefighters throughout this country (Firefighter Cancer Alliance). It has become an epidemic that is killing our fellow firefighters and friends. Every firefighter likely knows at least one fellow firefighter impacted by this disease.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched a multiyear study in 2010 to examine if firefighters have a higher risk of cancer due to job exposure (Daniels, 2017). The study found that 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 population. In addition, another study found that firefighters have a much higher risk than the general public of certain types of cancer, including double the risk of testicular cancer or mesothelioma. The risk of multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, skin cancer, malignant melanoma, brain cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and leukemia are also higher for firefighters than the general public (LeMasters et al, 2006).

See the full report here:  Please ensure you share this with the members of your organization and any fire service constituents.  Special thanks to The NFFF, IAFC, VCOS, and the NVFC for putting together the above report.

It’s time to Control Cancer!

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.