It is no secret that cancer continues to rear its ugly head within the fire service. The San Francisco Fire Department is unfortunately no stranger to this. According to CDC/NIOSH research, firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of a cancer diagnosis and a 14 percent higher chance of dying from cancer than the general United States population. In the year 2022, nearly 75 percent of the names added to the International Association of Fire Fighters, Fallen Firefighter Memorial Wall were members who died from occupational cancer. If those numbers haven’t caught your attention, then maybe these will. In a one of its kind, local study of Kitsap County, Washington firefighters, it was found that the children of firefighters had a 27.4 percent higher risk of developing cancer than a child of the general United States population! Once again, sadly, our membership is no stranger to this. In the years 2018-June, 2023, The Health Navigation team of the SFFCPF assisted 6 children of San Francisco firefighters and 35 spouses of San Francisco firefighters in their battle with cancer. That is less than a 5-year window, and those are just the cases we were made aware of! We all signed up for this job at different stages in our lives, and accepted the inherent risks that come with it. Our families on the other hand did not choose this, and we must do our best to protect them, along with ourselves.
The San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation is committed to the prevention of cancer in active and retired members of the San Francisco Fire Department and their families. As part of this ongoing commitment, the foundation is advocating for the purchase of Structural PPE gear bags by the San Francisco Fire Department. The ultimate goal being that the department will recognize the value of this resource, make it a part of the firefighters PPE ensemble and continue to purchase and outfit all future members who join our organization. As members of the San Francisco Fire Department, we are subject to details and must transport our gear in our personal vehicles. With the knowledge we now have about the gear itself containing PFAS chemicals, in addition to the contaminants we may be exposed to at an incident, we have been slowly and unnecessarily exposing our families by transporting our gear in personal vehicles. By the distribution and use of PPE gear bags, the development of a department policy, and your commitment, we can minimize our exposure and the exposure of our families and help prevent this horrific disease.
Although we cannot directly correlate these elevated incidents of cancer in fire department members’ families to the transport of Structural PPE in private vehicles, we cannot deny this risk. So, until the City and County of San Francisco or the San Francisco Fire Department recognize the importance of this issue and provide its members with this valuable resource, we recommend that members invest in a gear bag themselves. If nothing else, purchase yourself a large plastic tote that you can transport your gear in your personal vehicle without putting yourself and your family at further risk. In addition, we would like to remind you of some considerations:
– Use gear bags to transport gear in personal vehicles.
– Use turnout extractors following an exposure.
– Use plastic (garbage) bags as a liner in the gear bag (or tote) if you must transport soiled gear.
– “Shower within the hour” following a working fire and at the end of your shift.
– Do not store turnout gear in your home.
– Wash dirty laundry at the firehouse. Do not bring home.
– Wash turnout boots following a working fire. Boots significantly contribute to cross contamination.
Lt. John Silva, SFFD Engine 3