Experts weigh in the reduction of firefighter cancer exposure

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Research and best practices to reduce cancer exposure for fire fighters were discussed by scientists, fire industry leaders, and other key stakeholders at a two-day workshop in Ottawa, Ont. on Oct. 26-27.

The event saw participation from over 100 in-person and virtual attendees and was orchestrated by the IAFF in collaboration with Health Canada.

Firefighter cancer exposure: A growing concern

The workshop was initiated in response to the recent passing of Bill C-224. This bill introduces a national strategy for the prevention and treatment of cancers associated with firefighting.

Presentations covered a range of topics including on-site exposure limitation, the efficiency of personal protective equipment (PPE), and innovative designs in PPE.

Attendees participated in group discussions, breakout sessions, and formulated statements on harmonised strategies, best practices, and areas lacking information.

Key highlights and presentations

Kevin Rojecki from Puget Sound highlighted the magnitude of the exposure issue for those present.

Simultaneously, Kevin Tomyk from Vancouver shared insights on best practices to mitigate and rectify on-site exposures.

Another noteworthy presentation came from Dixon Phillips and John Schmidt from Pasco County, detailing their newly launched decontamination programme.

Collaborative efforts in reducing cancer risks

Neil McMillan, IAFF Director of Science and Research and co-organiser of the event, remarked on the workshop’s significance, commenting that partnering with Health Canada to bring academics and fire service stakeholders together to tackle the broad topic of occupational exposure enables the IAFF to better identify the health impacts its members experience, an important step toward reducing them.”

He also acknowledged the support from various Canadian Government officials and General President Edward Kelly.

Regarding the commitment to reduce cancer’s impact on fire fighters, he added: “The road to a safer and healthier tomorrow for our Canadian IAFF members is being paved through work being done by leaders like federal Health Minister Mark Holland, MP Sherry Romanado, and General President Kelly.”

Minister Holland, present during the event’s inauguration, shared the government’s perspective: “That’s why this is important, and that’s why our continued collaboration between fire fighters and Health Canada in understanding those risks, mitigating those risks, and reducing them to the greatest extent possible is so essential.

“In order for Canadians to be safe, we need fire fighters to be safe.”

Global recognition for Canada’s efforts

MP Sherry Romanado, who introduced Bill C-224, emphasised the international attention Canada is receiving. “Other countries are now looking at what the Canadian Government is doing to address occupational cancer in fire fighters,” she noted.

Expressing gratitude towards the ongoing efforts, she said: “I want to thank you because what you are doing today is groundbreaking.

“What we are going to be doing is saving lives, and there is no more meaningful work.”

IFSJ Comment

The proactive steps taken by the Canadian Government, in partnership with IAFF and Health Canada, underline the pressing need to address the risk of cancer in the fire fighting community.

The introduction of Bill C-224 and the collective efforts of experts, researchers, and industry leaders at the workshop reflect a commitment to ensuring the safety of fire fighters.

As these best practices and strategies are developed and implemented, they not only safeguard the health of those on the frontline but also set a commendable example for other nations to follow.

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