STROUDSBURG, MONROE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Firefighters put their lives at risk every day to save others in their communities. During Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month local departments are speaking out about the risks that come along with the job.
From rescues to vehicle crashes and burning buildings, firefighters are front and center to respond.
But it’s not just the danger of an emergency putting them at risk.
According to the international association of firefighters, occupational cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters.
“You just can’t be safe enough here. The things are not the same as they were thirty years ago. Everything’s made of plastic. Plastic has over 250 known carcinogens in it when it burns,” said David Smalley, Stroud Township Volunteer Fire Department’s Assistant fire chief.
Smalley has been a firefighter for decades and just two years ago was diagnosed with stage three lymphoma.
He was unaware of the diagnosis until he was taken to the hospital after being injured in the line of duty.
“It’s one of those things that had it been left undetected, the outcome may not have been as good as it was,” said Smalley.
As Stroud Township Volunteer Fire Department works alongside Stroudsburg Fire Smalley’s path crossed with Todd Martin’s the current president and former chief of the department.
Martin has had multiple myeloma for the last 18 years, a cancer that’s incurable and common among firefighters.
“People have been a lot more aware of what cancer is and also in the firefighting field, we’ve become educated on the fact that a lot of the fires we fight and a lot of the situations that we’re in, there are a lot of chemicals and a lot of carcinogens,” President and Former Chief of Stroudsburg Fire Department, Todd Martin.
Firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than the general public a staggering statistic leading to extra steps of preventative measures being taken in the field.
Smalley showed eyewitness news a hose they use to wash and decontaminate their gear at the scene of a call.
“We decon ourselves because that’s the type of that stuff that we end up bringing back to the firehouse, we bring back to our homes, we bring back to our children, we bring back to our grandchildren,” said Martin.
As both Stroud Township and Stroudsburg spread awareness of the issue they tell me it’s their love for the job that keeps them going.
“I always call it that circle of life within the fire department. We all take care of each other and we all are sure that we’re a family and we want to all come home safe every day,” said Martin.
Local volunteer fire officials say the public can help them continue to do their job safely by participating in fundraisers to raise money for top-of-the-line equipment.