Calgary firefighters aim to raise more awareness about occupational cancer
By Keoputhy Bunny, News Editor
As January comes to an end, the Calgary Firefighters Association (CFA) is trying to raise awareness for the occupational cancer that firefighters may develop in the line of duty. According to them, 75 per cent of their occupational deaths are from cancer.
January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month and social media accounts for various firefighters’ associations have banded together to share information and stories from their own communities to bring occupational cancer to the forefront of people’s attention.
Alberta Fire Fighters Association President Matt Osborne says that cancer is an epidemic within the field.
“It’s the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among Alberta firefighters, as it is across Canada,” he said. “Firefighters are at an increased risk of cancer due to the toxic nature of our workplace, where burning plastics and other materials[…]create a toxic soup that exposes firefighters to millions of different,unknown and cancer-causing chemicals.”
Essentially, even though firefighters have personal protective equipment, toxins released from household items will stick to the firefighters’ gear and their body. Contamination and cross-contamination from these toxins are the cause of cancer for firefighters.
In fact, in September of 2021, four more names were honored at the annual memorial service of Calgary firefighters: Harry Skakum, John Doherty, Roger Thompson and Donald Taylor, all died from occupational cancer.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) split the month into four weeks with four different themes. Week one was “scope,” aiming to contextualize the severity of occupational cancer within the fire departments. Week two revolved around “research,” bringing attention to scientific research linking the hazards of firefighting to the cancer rates. Week three centered around “prevention,” highlighting best practices around limiting exposure to harmful carcinogens. Week four concentrated on supporting firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer as well as initiating a culture change so cancer prevention is more present.
These tools are more geared towards fire departments but have a variety of stories and statistics for the public to educate themselves and others.
The Calgary Fire Department has received a $10 million boost following the city council discussions for the municipal budget late last year. This will allow for 56 new firefighters and six new training officers. According to Osborne, before this boost the city had cut $35 million to the department within the last few years.
To date, 58 firefighters have lost their lives in the line of duty in Calgary. The IAFF says 52 of those firefighters have died from occupational cancer within the last 10 years.