Fire isn’t the Only Danger Firefighters Face

Firefighters and Cancer

It’s been 16 years since “9/11.” No doubt, you remember where you were on that day. Images of heroic first responders are etched in our memories forever. How has the health of survivors and first responders (including firefighters) at Ground Zero been impacted? It’s hard to find clear statistics. Collecting data takes decades, so we won’t know for many years, the full cost they paid that day. But, we do know that firefighters, in general, have an increased risk of cancer.

Check out the video at the end of this article. Dallas Firefighters share their cancer experiences.

Imagine you’re a firefighter.

You put on your gear. Manufactured used special chemicals to make it flame retardant. You go into a burning home and get everyone to safety. The chemicals in the smoky air surrounding you stick to your gear. Fire after fire, they accumulate. After the fire, you toss the gear in the back of your truck.

You don’t wash it. For 2 reasons:Firefighter gear

  1. Your dirty gear and helmet are a badge of honor within the firefighting culture. The soot and grime show that you’ve seen a lot of fire.
  2. Frequent washing causes rapid deterioration of your gear. That means replacing it more often, which means an increased budget.


No Annual Physicals

Many fire departments don’t require annual physicals beyond the initial hiring physical. 1 These physicals are crucial for preventing the #1 cause of death in firefighter, heart attacks. But they’re also an essential part of early cancer detection.

The Gear, Itself.

The fabric in the gear, itself, is made with Terephthaloyl Chloride and p-Phenylenediamine. 2  This has a toxic component called C8.

FirefightersWhy is it there?

  • To protect firefighters from the heat while fighting fires.

What’s the alternative?

  • In Europe, where it’s illegal to manufacture goods with known carcinogens, they use a component called C6 in their gear.

Why don’t we make our fire gear in the US with C6 rather than C8?

  • Perhaps because C6 costs exponentially more to make.

The Heat

While fighting fires, your body temperature rises, increasing the rate of absorption of chemicals into your system. Chemicals like the C8 in your gear and chemicals that have accumulated from the fires themselves.


Off-Gassing from the Gear

Remember how you tossed that gear in the back of your truck? The chemicals that have accumulated off-gas carcinogens. This is one of the reasons it’s important to decontaminate your gear and your body before leaving the fire. Another reason is that you don’t want to put your family at risk by bringing those carcinogens home with you.

International Firefighters Cancer Foundation

Cindy Ells started the International Firefighters Cancer Foundation after she noticed too many of her co-workers in the Maryland Fire Service were receiving a cancer diagnosis. In her presentations, she cites research that says, firefighters are more than 100 times more likely to get cancers such as Multiple myelomas, testicular cancer, and blood cancers than the general population.

“That’s what makes firefighting so unique. You are getting the stacking effect of many chemicals and chemicals that weren’t designed to go together. So, the body and the body’s immune system is not designed to fight these. And hence we have a huge growing cancer effort.” 3


How can we change this?

  • Follow every precaution.
  • Wearing all your gear.
  • Clean that gear well after each use.
  • Communities need to make funds available for the firefighters who protect them to have enough of the right gear.
  • Departments should require Annual physicals.

Check out this powerful video!

Assistance is Available

If you are or know. a firefighter who’s been diagnosed with cancer, get in contact with the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and request assistance. They will stick with you from your diagnosis and through the battle. They have volunteer mentors who can share their experiences facing cancer and give you valuable resources through the recovery process.


  1. Fire Rescue, The Case for Annual Physical Exams in the Fire Service, 7/1/2010
  2. Station, The Real Cancer in Your Gear, 3/28/2017 by Mutual Aid
  3. Interview by Mary Sturgill, July 19, 2016, Columbia, SC (WLTX)


I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!


I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography


Have any Question or Comment?

4 comments on “Fire isn’t the Only Danger Firefighters Face

Great post! I loved reading it especially since my husband is a firefighter! Fortunately, his department requires annual physicals and requires you to turn in your turnouts after any fire! He gets upset because like you said, dirty turnouts are a badge of honor, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Great post girl!

Thank you! And, please thank your husband for me. Firefighters are true heroes, walking into situations the rest of us would run from. I’m so thankful they protect their communities with honor and bravery. And thank you. I was recently talking to a volunteer firefighter who said it’s their families who sacrifice the most so they can do their job.
Bless you!

Great information. I didn’t realize firefighters were at higher risk for cancer. I think choosing to make the gear from C6 should be a no-brainer!

Hi Nancy, A few days ago, I spoke with a fireman from our local fire department and was glad to learn that they require physicals every two years and must wash their gear after any fire and as well quarterly regardless of whether or not they have been in a fire. They also have to sign a pledge not to smoke and to keep alcohol use to a minimum. The C6 seems to be an issue in the US in general, but I was glad to learn that they are trying to raise awareness of the dangers their gear poses. Bless you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge



IWSG Badge

Sign up for my FREE Newsletter!

Check out Past Blog Posts HERE