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New training launched for firefighters to combat cancer threat

21 September 2021

NEW TRAINING for firefighters aims to fight the cancer threat posed to them from fires by taking aim at the toxic substances that fires produce. The new training, dubbed ‘DECON’, encourages firefighters to take actions before, during and after every fire incident in order to help them reduce their own, their co-workers’ and their families’ exposure to these toxic substances, which are themselves termed ‘contaminants’.

UK firefighters surveyed as part of University of Central Lancashire research were four times more likely to have been diagnosed with cancer than the general population. It’s thought that firefighters’ exposure to those toxic substances could be playing a part in their increased risk of being diagnosed with cancer and other diseases.

‘DECON’ encourages firefighters to change simple behaviours, such as better cleaning practices around fire kit and firefighters themselves. One of the difficulties is a long-standing culture in the Fire and Rescue Service whereby dirty kit is viewed as a ‘badge of honour’ and worn with pride, but potentially putting health at risk.

The official launch of the training, on Tuesday 7 September, comes in the same week as the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11. Since those terrorism strikes, US studies have revealed firefighters who attended the incidents have developed an increased risk of cancer and other diseases and are eligible for Government-funded compensation.

Launched by the Fire Brigades Union, the training has been developed in tandem with UCLan’s Professor Anna Stec.

Training in action

Riccardo la Torre, national officer at the Fire Brigades Union, commented: “Most firefighters will know a colleague who is battling with, or has battled cancer. It affects us all in the Fire and Rescue Service in some way or another and can be devastating. We’re looking forward to seeing the training in action and, hopefully, helping to save lives.”

Sid McNally contracted cancer and believes it may have been caused by his work as a firefighter. He said: “There’s lots of cancer risks you can have as a member of the public. I simply don’t have any of those. I just believe I was working in an environment that didn’t do me any good. You are drawn into that work environment and you think that that’s all that matters, but people have a life outside of the Fire and Rescue Service and, to make the most of that, you need to be healthy.”

Professor Anna Stec, who specialises in the subjects of fire chemistry and toxicity at the University of Central Lancashire, explained: “Our research shows that UK firefighters are frequently exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals during and after a fire. Our Best Practice report combined with this training, as well as our cancer and disease registry and national health screening, will allow us to increase awareness among firefighters of the impact of toxic fire effluents on their health. Through ongoing research, we will help to keep firefighters safe and reduce the occurrence of cancer and other diseases within the profession.”