Ongoing efforts to reduce responders’ cancer risk include distribution of decontamination wipes, enhanced screenings

  • First responders have higher rates of several cancer types
  • Decontamination wipes part of post-exposure safety procedures
  • BFD, Roswell Park, Local 282 establish cancer prevention committee

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Cancer is the most dangerous threat to firefighter health and safety today, surpassing cardiac related deaths. To help address and reduce these risks, the Buffalo Fire Department and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center have teamed up to develop an ongoing initiative to keep first responders safe.

Roswell Park President and CEO Candace S. Johnson, PhD, speaks at a May 5 press conference at a downtown Buffalo fire station, announcing an ongoing collaboration to address and mitigate cancer risks for first responders.

Roswell Park, Buffalo Fire Department and Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282 have established a cancer prevention committee that meets regularly to keep these important issues at the forefront of the fire service, and have also collaborated to establish a three-pronged approach for reducing risks.

“The Buffalo Fire Department is proud to be a part of this latest life-saving initiative, along with our on-going collaboration with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282 as we continue to develop new processes, and procedures that will ensure the health and safety of our Firefighters and First Responders everywhere,” said City of Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo.

Through this new initiative, BFD will:

  • Enhance annual medical physicals for first responders through thorough exams and cancer screening tests
  • Implement new post-exposure safety procedures including decontamination wipes and “shower within an hour” protocol using a specially formulated shampoo/body wash, with wipes and body wash donated by Roswell Park to be distributed to all 19 firehouses within the Department
  • Distribute three-season parkas with removable, washable liners to EMS personnel, greatly reducing potential for contact exposures to toxic substances for both EMS personnel and community members they serve

While national data suggest that firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population across all cancers, the increased incidence of certain cancers is significantly higher. Studies have found:

A 60% increased risk for lung cancer among firefighters
A six-fold increase in breast cancer among female firefighters
Increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma and colon and kidney cancer for firefighters with 20 or more years of service
Increased risk of leukemia, lymphoma and brain cancer for firefighters with 30 or more years of service
The collaboration represents an extension of the First Responders Screening Program Roswell Park launched in late 2020. The program provides a physical, lab tests, bloodwork, comprehensive skin cancer screening and imaging for eligible individuals. Since the program’s inception, Roswell Park has screened more than 250 first responders. Early detection of cancer is a key factor in improving better survival, quality of life and access to more effective treatment options.

“You do so much for your community, but it’s critical that as first responders, you take a moment to take care of yourselves,” says Candace S. Johnson, PhD, President, CEO and M&T Presidential Chair in Leadership at Roswell Park. “Anytime we at Roswell Park can do something to reduce that cancer burden, we are happy to help.”