BC Matthew Alba, SFFD Chief of Health, Safety, & Wellness | SFFCPF Board Member

January marks Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, a crucial time for us at the San Francisco Fire Department’s Division of Health, Safety, & Wellness and the SFFCPF to reflect on the unique challenges our firefighters face. It’s a month dedicated to raising awareness about the heightened risk of cancer among firefighters due to occupational exposure and, more importantly, spotlighting the initiatives that empower our first responders to combat this threat.

The SFFCPF and the SFFD take pride in its Cancer Champion Program, a proactive and impactful approach to addressing the alarming statistics. Did you know that firefighters face a 9% increased risk of cancer compared to the general population? This sobering reality underscores the urgency of our efforts.

At the core of our Cancer Champion Program are dedicated individuals stationed at each firehouse, ready to lead the charge in spreading awareness and implementing preventive measures. These SFFD members work to ensure that every firefighter understands the potential dangers lurking in their profession and how to mitigate them.

One of the primary focuses of our Cancer Champions is identifying areas where firefighters are exposed to toxins. From PFAS in our equipment to the carcinogens present in diesel exhaust and the hazards associated with wildland fire smoke, our champions are at the forefront of educating their colleagues. Knowledge is power, and by understanding these risks, firefighters can take the necessary steps to minimize exposure.

The Division of Health, Safety & Wellness and SFFCPF have partnered with DetecTogether, a pioneering company committed to making firefighters realize the life-saving benefits of early cancer detection. The collaboration emphasizes the importance of regular screenings and health check-ups, empowering our firefighters to take control of their well-being. Early detection not only increases the chances of successful treatment but also promotes a culture of proactive health management.

It’s essential to recognize that 40% of Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. However, the silver lining lies in the fact that many risk factors for cancer are modifiable. I’m all for tradition, but not when it’s contributing to our demise! By adopting anti-cancer behaviors, we not only reduce the risk of cancer but also impact other co-morbidities such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, and musculoskeletal issues.

The message our Cancer Champions are delivering resonates in every firehouse across San Francisco: prevention is key.  It’s even in the name of our foundation: The San Francisco Firefighters Cancer PREVENTION Foundation! The Cancer Champions encourage their colleagues to be mindful of their surroundings, adopt healthy lifestyle choices, and prioritize regular health check-ups. These champions are the driving force behind a cultural shift within our department, emphasizing that every firefighter should ask themselves, “Who is your Cancer Champion?”.

As we navigate Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, let us unite in our commitment to protecting those who protect us. The Cancer Champion Program is not just a campaign; it’s a movement that empowers our firefighters to take charge of their health, reduce risks, and detect potential issues early on. Together, we can ensure that every firefighter has the support they need to lead a long and healthy life in service to our community.

San Francisco Fire Department // International Association of Firefighters // San Francisco Local 798