Firefighter Cancer Issues

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What You Should Know About Fire Fighters and Cancer

Fire fighters are not only at risk when they respond to a fire or medical emergency, but cancer is threatening their well- being in alarming numbers.

Cancer rates run statistically higher for fire fighters compared to the general North American population.

The IAFF is deeply concerned and committed about protecting its members from the dangers that fire fighters face including occupational diseases.

The IAFF in conjunction with the Fire Fighter’s Cancer Support Network are working to make it a top priority to establish a cancer awareness and prevention program to educate its members on the hazards of fire-fighting.  The IAFF will work to ensure that fire fighters will have the tools necessary through videos and online training to increase preventative measures.

“Cancer is the number one killer of fire fighters in the fire service,” said Patrick J. Morrison, Assistant to the General President for Occupational Health, Safety and Medicine.
“We are working to educate our members, leaders and management to effectively raise awareness that can have a positive change to reduce the number of cancer deaths in the fire service.”

There is significant scientific evidence that demonstrates fire fighters have a higher mortality rate due to cancer compared to other occupational illnesses and these studies clearly indicate that such cancers are linked to the occupational employment of fire fighter.

When fire fighters fight structural fires they are exposed to all kinds of hazardous chemicals including carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, benezene, styrene, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, etc.

Fire fighters are significantly more likely to develop four type of cancers than workers in any other field, including being diagnosed with: testicular cancer, multiple myeloma, non-hodgkins lymphoma and prostate.

Statistics collected from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue IAFF Local 1403 found out of 1792 active members that 13 percent were diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Forty-nine percent of retirees were diagnosed with cancer in 2011.

To bring the cancer rate down, more has to be done to overcome a cultural mindset that says the “dirtier the gear the better the more experience you show as a fire fighter.”

That mindset may prove fatal to more fire fighters.

Fire fighters can reduce their risks of cancer by doing the following:
-getting annual physical checkups
- shower to remove soot and other chemicals after every fire
- wear their SCBAs at all times (even after the fire is out)
-clean turn out gear, gloves and helmets
-maintain/install  proper diesel exhaustive systems in your fire station
- never take contaminated bunker pants and boots in living/sleeping quarters
-do not take contaminated clothes or PPE home or store openly in your vehicle


Cancer: Study of Cancer among U.S. Fire Fighters

Project background and goals

In 2010, NIOSH researchers, with funding assistance from the  U.S. Fire AdministrationExternal Web Site Icon launched a multi-year study to examine whether fire fighters have a higher risk of cancer and other causes of death due to job exposures. Our study was designed to address limitations of previous fire fighter cancer research.

•We include a significantly larger population. With more than 30,000 career fire fighters who served in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco Fire Departments between 1950 and 2010, it is the largest study of United States fire fighters ever undertaken. In addition, both non-white and female fire fighters are represented.
•We will look not only at deaths from cancer, but also at the diagnosis of certain kinds of cancer, such as testicular and prostate cancer, which have higher survival rates. We will also examine other causes of death. This will help to better understand the risk for various cancers and illnesses among fire fighters compared to the general public.
•We will also examine more exposures than previous studies. We will look at the number and type of fire runs made (for example, EMS and vehicle fire) and the use of personal protective equipment and diesel exhaust controls.

Download the protocol Adobe PDF file [PDF 315 KB, 31 pages] for more details about the study.

Study progress

Originally, we hoped to include 18,000 current and retired fire fighters in our study. With excellent cooperation from the three fire departments, we have identified more than 30,000 fire fighters for the study. We have made many trips to each location to collect data. All of the data for our study come from existing records. We have gathered records of detailed work histories of the position(s) each fire fighter held and the length of time he/she spent in that position. We are currently working to determine exposure risks for each fire fighter.

Project timeline


•NIOSH and  USFAExternal Web Site Icon announced the initiation of a study of cancer among United States fire fighters.
•Partnership established with the National Cancer Institute.
•Approximately 30,000 fire fighters from Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco were identified for the study.
•Work began to collect records on fire fighters employed between 1950 and 2010.


•List of fire fighters included in the study was completed for San Francisco and Chicago Fire Departments and started for the Philadelphia Fire Department.
•Exposure records collection started.
•Work history data collection completed for all departments.


•Health outcomes were identified.


•The first manuscript Adobe PDF file* [PDF 768 KB, 12 pages] detailing study results was published and a press release was prepared. Learn more about the results by downloading the Frequently Asked Questions: NIOSH Fire Fighter Cancer Study Initial Result Adobe PDF file.


•Additional analyses will be conducted to finalize the study.
•Results will be communicated to fire fighters, stakeholders, and the public


Read the latest newsletter to learn more about our study and progress.
•Issue 5 Adobe PDF file [PDF 349 KB, 1 page] (Summer 2014)
•Issue 4 Adobe PDF file [PDF 422 KB, 4 pages]
•Issue 3 Adobe PDF file [PDF 689 KB, 4 pages]
•Issue 2 Adobe PDF file [PDF 437 KB, 4 pages]
•Issue 1 Adobe PDF file [PDF 889 KB, 4 pages]

If you have questions about the study, please email or call the Industrywide Studies Branch, 513-841-4203. We also welcome suggestions for how we could further improve or expand our website and encourage you to send ideas for how we could better serve you.