Lexington firefighters taking steps to reduce cancer risk

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The Lexington Fire Department has launched new protocols this week to help reduce the risk of firefighters developing cancer.

Among those protocols is a new hood swapping program, in which firefighters swap out their dirty hoods for a clean one after fighting a fire.

Firefighters wear the hoods under their helmets and face protector to help shield their head and face from soot and debris, but the material can also trap cancer-causing toxins.

"Firefighting is always going to be a nasty, dirty job," said Major Curtis Works. "We can't take that out of the equation. But we're trying to - as you're well aware of, we just got the cancer bill approved - we're fighting that unseen enemy that's out there every day."

A new state law passed in the spring classifies certain types of cancer deaths among firefighters as 'in the line of duty' and extends benefits to the families. The bill calls for the state to give $80,000 to families of firefightgers who die of cancer.

A fellow Lexington firefighter, Matt Logsdon, lost his battle with cancer in July. He was diagnosed in January with stage four neuroendocrine cancer in his liver, bones and lungs.

A Centers for Disease Control study of firefighters and cancer released in July concluded that firefighters "are at increased risk of certain types of cancer as a result of occupational exposure."

Fire officials tell WKYT that they will also focus on giving crews time, when possible, to shower as soon as they finish fighting a fire, part of a three-step process to clean anything harmful off of them.

"The less time that you have with it, the better shielding you have from it and the further away you are from it, that's going to be better for your wellness," Major Works said.

"The cleaner we are, the safer we are, is basically what it boils down to," he added.

Firefighters say the new protocols add to steps they already take to reduce the risk of cancer. That includes having vents that expel exhaust fumes from the trucks so the gases do not build up in the bay, and leaving their gear outside instead of in their sleeping quarters.

Previously, however, firefighters would wear the same hood until they had time to get it cleaned in equipment known as an "extractor" located at the fire station. Now they will automatically swap out their hoods, either on the scene of the fire or at a fire station.

Major Works said the protocols are also being implemented at Lexington Fire's training academy, so that the steps will already be ingrained in any future firefighters.

"We're trying to stay ahead of the curve," Major Works said. "This job is dangerous enough as it is....Anything we can do - any countermeasure we can implement on our side to prevent getting cancer - we should do it."