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Phoenix firefighter’s death from cancer opens eyes to other hazards of job

(Facebook Photo/United Phoenix Firefighters)

PHOENIX – Firefighters sign up for the job knowing it is a dangerous profession. But the day-to-day tasks are proving to become a silent killer within the fire service industry.

A growing body of research and data shows the toxins and other job-related exposures have resulted in chronic illnesses, especially when it comes to cancer.

Firefighters are four more times likely to contract cancer and nearly 70 percent of line-of-duty deaths in 2017 were caused by cancer throughout the country.

As times have changed, fires have started to change as well, creating more toxic fumes.

“The way materials are made and the houses we go into, a majority of furniture is made of plastic nowadays,” Phoenix Fire Capt. Larry Subervi said.

Subervi and other first responders attended the Wednesday funeral of firefighter Rick Telles, who died last week from throat cancer.

The 45-year-old was the first firefighter from Phoenix whose diagnosis led to recognition of cancer as a line-of-duty death. He was on the job for 11 years and is survived by a wife and five children.

The department has changed its culture to better protect crew members, Subervi said.

“The Number One action item for the Phoenix Fire Department right now is to look at ways we can reduce cancer for our members,” he said.

Last year, President Donald Trump signed into law the Presumptive Legislation for Firefighter Cancer Order, which honors any firefighter death caused by cancer, as a line-of-duty death.

The legislation has helped fire departments increase awareness and technology to better protect their members.

“We’ve had a complete cultural make over when it comes to cancer awareness,” Subervi said.

Phoenix Fire has mandated its firefighters carry two sets of their protective clothing, called turnouts.

“Traditionally, you’d finish a fire and take off your turnouts and throw them in the back of the truck and now everyone in that truck is breathing in those fumes,” Subervi said.

Now, the used turnouts are thoroughly washed after a fire and crews use their second pair of turnouts in the meantime.

Engineers in charge of driving the fire trucks rinse off crews as they leave fires to get as much of the contaminants off them as possible.

They also work out after a fire. Sweating from cardiovascular activity helps purge some of the toxins from their bodies, Subervi said.

Some Scottsdale Fire stations have even gone as far as installing saunas in their fire houses to help promote the idea of detoxing.

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