Rockland firefighters undergo cancer screenings

By Stephen Betts | Jul 12, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts Rockland Fire Chief Christopher Whytock stands outside the fire station with the mobile health screening trailer July 12.

Rockland — Firefighters are exposed to toxic chemicals whenever they battle smoke and flames.

A donation has allowed the city to have its fire crews screened for cancers tied to those toxic chemicals.

A mobile health trailer from PHS Mobile Health Solutions of Pennsylvania was parked behind the Rockland fire station Friday, July 12.

Fire Chief Christopher Whytock said 25 of the 28 firefighters on the full-time staff and call division agreed to undergo cancer screenings.

"Many things in modern homes are made of materials that produce toxic smoke when burning," the chief said.

He said studies show that cancer rates for firefighters are increasing significantly, and the increase is believed to be connected to those exposures. The types include lung, brain and liver cancers, he said.

There is a state law, he noted, which declares that if a firefighter is diagnosed with one of nine types of cancer, it is assumed to be the result of exposure to fires. This allows the firefighter to be eligible for workers' compensation benefits.

One member of the department's call division is being treated for cancer, the chief said.

The chief said studies show that the chemicals do not have to be breathed in, but can be absorbed by the skin through exposure to contaminated gear. This has led the department to require that after crews return from a fire, their clothing be taken across the street to the laundromat to be cleaned. The clothing, before it is cleaned, is not allowed in the living spaces of the station.

Each crew member has two sets of gear, he noted.

The screenings being conducted Friday included blood tests and a chest X-ray. There were also other tests, such as cardiograms and lung function tests, audio and eye checks. Heart attacks and strokes are also more common in firefighters than the general public, the chief said.

The cost of the screenings -- about $11,000 -- was paid for by a donation from an individual, the chief said. He said he does not have permission to identify the donor.

The chief said he would like to make this a regular health check with new firefighters checked every five years to track their health conditions.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.