The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) has agreed to expand its research into the effects of fire contaminants (i.e. toxic substances produced by fires) on firefighters. Following ongoing studies with the University of Central Lancashire, commissioned by the union, it is believed that fire contaminants can lead to cancer rates in firefighters up to four times higher than in the general population.
In addition to having sponsored research* on the links between the profession of firefighter and cancer and disease, the Syndicate had previously developed training in this area. The organization will now fight for contamination best practices to be extended across the fire and rescue service, including through national guidelines, contaminant monitoring, cancer screening, design principles fire stations, etc.
The union also voted to expand the search to take into account research studies and reports suggesting that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are hazardous to health.
Riccardo la Torre, FBU’s national manager, said: “It’s impressive to see how our members, our health and safety representatives and our representatives in the branches have integrated this campaign. I saw a friend and a brother die of this disease. He took Steve’s tongue before costing him his life. Another very good friend of mine contracted the exact same cancer: face, tongue and throat. He had never smoked in his life. We can be the DECON generation.
Several firefighters have shared moving testimonies of how cancer has affected them and their fellow firefighters. Steve Burns, from Hampshire, has told how the past decade has been ‘difficult’ due to 19 rounds of chemotherapy. “In the UK we are well behind [with research] and that we have to catch up. »
Another firefighter recounted how his own father died of cancer nine days before his retirement: “The consultant oncologist said his work as an operational firefighter was a very likely contributing factor to my father’s illness. and his subsequent death. The pain and grief felt by his colleagues, family and friends was sometimes unbearable.
La Torre said: “The union’s work so far has raised awareness of the risks of fire contamination and taken action to prevent these risks. Now we want to take the next step and make sure that decontamination is really integrated into all levels of the fire and rescue service. With new policy on national guidelines, monitoring, screening and more, we are confident that we are taking important steps here that will help create healthier firefighters in the future.
The FBU National Conference Motion on Directions noted the absence of decontamination in the National Fire and Rescue Service Operational Directions and committed the union to fight to change this situation. The station design motion notes that decontamination efforts “can be undermined by outdated fire station designs” and, similarly, commits the union to making efforts to ensure that decontamination principles are integrated into all future fire station designs.
Another motion at last month’s national conference committed the union to work for better cancer screening, with all fire and rescue services monitoring levels of exposure to fire contaminants.
PFAS are highly persistent chemicals that are thought to have a wide range of possible health effects. They have been the focus of attention, including Mark Ruffalo’s 2019 film Dark Waters. These compounds are thought to be present in some firefighting foams and uniforms.
*The research focused on a survey of 11,000 firefighters