Cancer is the leading cause of death for Canadian firefighters, compared to any other fatal illness or injury, a new B.C.-based study has revealed.
According to a study by the University of the Fraser Valley released this week, firefighters are 86 per cent more likely to die from cancer than of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, traumatic injury and mental health issues.
That equates to about 50 firefighters out of 100,000, which makes those who battle blazes two to three times more likely to die from cancer than the general population.
Led by university adjunct professor and Surrey fire chief Len Garis, in partnership with the B.C. Injury Research and Prevention Unit, 10 years of firefighter health and injury data was reviewed.
“As with all prevention activities, it will be many years before we realize the fruits of our work,” Garis said. “However, the work we do now will mean that after a long career of serving the public, more firefighters will live longer and healthier lives.”
So what’s behind the smoke?
Firefighters are regularly exposed to concentrated carcinogens in the air, soot and tar at a fire ground – a likely cause leading to fire members aged 55 to 59 seeing the brunt of cancer symptoms, and being forced to take time off through time-loss claims.
Meanwhile, when responding to emergencies, firefighters are often exposed to extreme temperatures, strenuous physical labour, falling objects, diseases, toxic substances and violence or other traumatic events, the study suggests.
Last year the B.C government added three more cancers to the list of Firefighter’s Occupational Disease Regulation. Through the amended legislation, firefighters are eligible to receive workers compensation after a certain amount of time without having to prove that their cancer is specifically from firefighting.
“Through this study we see that firefighter health risks evolve over time,” study co-author Rachel Ramsden said.
“This points to the need for a method of continually collecting and analyzing firefighter health data, so that the interventions can remain in sync.”