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Firefighters battle cancer, leading cause of death

<i></i><br/>At the 2022 International Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial
Lawrence, Nakia

At the 2022 International Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial


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    SHREVEPORT, Louisiana (KTBS) — Cancer is killing firefighters. It’s the No. 1 line of duty death among their ranks.

The Shreveport Fire Department just lost a member in January to the horrible disease. Cancer took the lives of Shreveport Fire Department captains Ralph Parker in 2021 and Wynn Hutto earlier this month.

At the 2022 International Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial, 75 percent of the names added to the wall were members who died from cancer.

Locally, Shreveport firefighter Robert Taggart was diagnosed in 2016 with chronic myeloid leukemia, an overproduction of white blood cells. He survived.

“I got the news when I sat across from the doctor that you never want to hear is that you have cancer,” said Taggart, SFD training officer.

His cancer was treatable, and today he’s healthy.

“One of the things that helped me be successful with defeating my cancer was early detection and that’s true for firefighters or anyone to get your checkups,” said Taggart. “No one likes going to the doctor, but it can save your life.”

According to the non-profit firm The Center for Fire, Rescue and EMS Health Research at NDRI-USA, firefighters are at a higher risk for cancer.

“We do know that firefighters on average get cancers about 9% higher across the board; 14 % are more likely to die,” said Sara Jahnke, Center for Fire, Rescue, and EMS Health Research director.

One cause of cancer: shiftwork.

“We know that shiftwork has been linked pretty consistently to the development of cancer. And so even shiftwork and those interrupted circadian rhythms, you know, firefighting and EMS, they’re not jobs that are a 9 to 5, Jahnke said.

Carcinogens may increase the risk. The Shreveport Fire Department has additional gear for the staff when they get back from a fire.

Shreveport firefighters ask you not to burn certain materials. That could help protect them.

“A lot of times people store things in their homes whether it be gasoline products or excessive clothing, excessive furniture if it’s not needed then get these things out of your home because those things put off a lot of carcinogens when they’re burning,” said Brandon Lee, Shreveport Fire Department administrative assistant to the fire chief.

More research is on the way with the launch of a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health registry this March.

“We’ll be able to look at deaths and death certificates and see what cancers they are dying of, if there are regional differences if there are state differences to really understand,” said Jahnke.

It means collecting more data in an effort to prevent cancer.

“The benchmark was the white paper that we published in 2013, which was a result of the NIOSH study that was published relating cancer and firefighting,” said Bryan Freeder, president & CEO of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. “The International Association of Research on cancer which is part of the World Health Organization recognized firefighting as a cause of cancer. The problem is, is that some departments don’t understand, and some departments don’t have the funding available to really use the things we recommend that reduce the risk of cancer.”

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