Local firefighters take measures to reduce cancer risk on the job

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HIGH POINT, N.C. -- When it comes to fire, minutes matter. But High Point Fire Department Deputy Chief Brian Evans explains those minutes carry even greater importance because today's house fires burn hotter, faster and are more dangerous.

"In the early days, your furniture was mainly made out of wood, now you have foam and plastics," Evans said. "When they burn they give off toxic chemicals."

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, firefighters have a 9 percent higher chance of getting a cancer diagnoses and face a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths. Firemen wear masks to ensure they won't breathe in the awful fumes. But what about their protective gear? According to High Point Fire Department Captain Gray George, firefighters no longer brag about wearing dirty coats and pants.

"We instill from the beginning through our recruit program the importance of it," George said. "We all have come in contact with people affected by cancer and there are small things we can do to not have that problem any more."

Every High Point firefighter is assigned two sets of personal protective equipment. After a fire, the outer and inner layer of clothing is separated and washed, removing any cancer-causing agents. Firefighters then put on their second set of gear.

In Greensboro, the fire department uses a training video to show how firemen should decontaminate themselves at the scene and back at the fire station. Greensboro also assigns its firefighters two sets of personal protective equipment.

A new law now requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to maintain a firefighter cancer registry. Firefighters can volunteer and provide their information so researchers can understand the effects of smoke inhalation and other dangers that could lead to cancer.

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