Cancer among Firefighters Increasing

firefighter fighting a fire

Active and just-retired firefighters in the Boston area are being diagnosed with cancer in astounding numbers. The cancer rate among firefighters is twice the rate of the general population in the area.

Currently, a 41-year-old Boston firefighter named Glenn Preston is being treated for blood cancer and undergoing chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

In 2002, Preston, along with 200 other firefighters, responded to a massive fire at a power plant. He became separated from his crew during the fire and was coated in chemical and a petroleum-like goo raining down from the roof. Out of the 200 firefighters that responded to this specific incident, a quarter of them have been diagnosed with cancer or cardiac issues.

The International Association of Firefighters states that cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters. The CDC and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study tracked nearly 30,000 firefighters across the country in 2010 and found higher rates of cancer than the general population.

Researchers site the possible high rate of cancer among firefighters could be due to synthetics, plastics and chemicals in modern homes and businesses that can explode and coat firefighters in toxic soot.

Keeping Fire Fighters Safe

Below is information from The National Fire Protection Association on minimizing contaminant exposure and risk:

How Clean is Clean: While general cleaning procedures have evolved as best practices, scientifically established methods for removing toxic chemicals, biological pathogens and other hazardous substances PPE is lacking. “Validation of Cleaning Procedures for Fire Fighter PPE” (a three-year study due in late 2018) works to identify the contaminants found and the disinfection/sanitization procedures required to remove them. (See

Contamination Control and Beyond: It’s quickly becoming recognized that contaminants found on firefighters are also present far from the fire ground: on hand tools, fire hose, apparatus, stations, and beyond – sometimes even into private vehicles and the homes of firefighters. The “Campaign for Fire Service Contamination Control” (a one year- study due in late 2017) aims to educate the fire service about the health and safety risks of contaminant exposure in all these locations and to provide steps for controlling contaminants’ spread. Go to for more information.

Long-term Cancer Study: Medical doctors and others don’t fully understand which exposures are responsible for cancer in firefighters, the mechanisms by which exposures cause cancer, nor the most effective means of reducing exposures. The “Fire Fighter Cancer Cohort Study” is a long-term (30-year) information collection effort led by the University of Arizona to fully address these questions. Updates will be provided at intervals throughout the study’s duration. Go to for more information.

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