SFFD FF Adam Wood, Rescue 2 | SFFCPF Board Vice President

We are happy to report that the California Firefighter Cancer Prevention Research Program, supported by the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, was signed into law by Governor Newsom on September 30th, 2023. This program is the next logical step in the fight to understand and prevent work-related cancer in firefighters. Scientific research has proven conclusively that firefighters have an elevated risk for cancer. Now we need to understand why that is and what can be done about it.

The new program, modeled on a similar project launched by Dr. Jeff Burgess and the University of Arizona looking at firefighters in that state, is exactly what’s needed pick up where other studies have left off. Through a partnership between California’s statewide firefighting agencies and the University of California system, the new research program will be a fire service-community based study of California firefighters throughout their careers, identifying specific carcinogenic bio-markers as they accumulate. This will help researchers and firefighters understand exactly where the cancer risk is coming from and design preventative measures to target the greatest sources of risk.

Participation will be voluntary, and grants will be awarded to studies designed by the University of California researchers in collaboration with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (OES), the State Fire Marshall, and Cal Fire. An initial appropriation of $7 million has been approved to launch the program, and additional funding will be sought in future state budgets.

All the major studies up until now have documented cancer and mortality rates in firefighters but have left us in the dark about the exact causes. There are several likely suspects, including Volatile Organic Compounds in commonly used flame retardants; PFAS and PFOA chemicals in furniture, household objects, firefighting foam and turnout gear; particulate matter in smoke and diesel exhaust. But our efforts to reduce exposure to these likely carcinogens are like a blindfolded child batting at a pinata. We get a good hit once in a while but we don’t really know what we are missing.

Programs like this are absolutely essential for us to remove the blindfold and take our best swing at work-related cancer.