St. Louis Firefighters testing tactics to reduce high cancer rate

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ST. LOUIS, MO — The St. Louis Fire Department lost four firefighters under the age of 50 to cancer last year. Now the department is at the forefront of creating a guideline to try and reduce that number.

Firefighters spend their days battling flames and a lot of smoke. The carcinogens in the smoke are killing firefighters at an alarming rate.

St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson said when he started materials in homes were natural, like wood and cotton. Now a lot of things in homes are synthetic and fill the air with carcinogens when they burn.

Jenkerson said one study he read said that 22 percent of the total population will get cancer. Among firefighters that number is 60 percent. That is a statistic he wants to change. The St. Louis Fire Department is coming up with guidelines on how to keep and get carcinogens off of firefighters.

“He can’t come out of that building and immediately grab a drink, he has to wash up.” Jenkerson said. “We don’t want to see the carcinogen matter wash into the gut. We are seeing a high number of gastro intestinal cancers.”

The St. Louis Fire dDpartment is one of the first in the country to test mobile decontamination kits that go on trucks. Firefighters use these to rinse off on the scene of a fire. Jenkerson said one of the biggest parts of this project is changing the mindset of firefighters.

“In the old days it was kind of a badge of honor if you had a dirty helmet and dirty coat. That meant you were a really strong tough firefighter. We can’t do that anymore,” said Jenkerson.

He said this is an expensive project. They also have to come up with ways to keep the trucks clean. They bought new jackets just used for kids to try on. They are working on getting a second set of equipment for all firefighters.

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