Best Practices for Preventing Cancer in Firefighters

Firefighters face danger every day. However, their highest risk of death does not come from smoke inhalation or burns. Instead, the top killer of firefighters is cancer, making cancer awareness for firefighters essential for those in this career. Among those added to the Fallen Firefighter Memorial Wall of Honor between 2002 and 2018, 65% died from cancers related to their occupation. You can work toward preventing firefighter cancer in yourself and others at your firehouse by taking the following safety measures.

Wash as Soon as Possible After Every Fire

Washing off your skin as soon as you can after every fire can dramatically reduce the amount of particulate matter on your skin. One study showed that washing with soap removed 85% of contaminants, compared to 23% removal for dry brushing. Wet wipes work better than dry brushing, removing up to 54% of toxic substances.

Ensure you clean your hands, feet, head and neck while showering to reduce contaminants on the skin. If you cannot shower immediately after returning from a fire, clean your skin as best as you can with wet wipes and shower as soon as possible.

After washing up, do not put on the same clothes you wore to the fire. Don clean clothing to prevent recontaminating yourself.

Store PPE Gear Correctly to Avoid Contaminating Other Areas in the Firehouse or Apparatuses

Following a fire, treat all PPE gear used at the fire as contaminated until you can clean it. While traveling back to the firehouse, keep PPE outside the vehicle or in a sealed bag inside. Once back at the firehouse, clean the gear according to NFPA 1851. Never take fire gear or PPE to a laundromat or your home for cleaning. If you need professional cleaning services, take it to a facility that specializes in cleaning and testing bunker gear, according to NFPA 1851.

Always Be Cautious at the Fire Ground

Always wear full PPE and SCBA to protect yourself from particulate matter and contaminants at every fire, even small trash or car fires. Don't let the culture of refusing to wear the proper gear stop you from using it. PPE and SCBA could save your life. Gas detectors should not tell you when to wear PPE. Always have PPE on at a fire, even after your team has successfully extinguished the blaze. Contaminants can remain in the air long after the flames die down.

Also, begin decontaminating your SCBA and other gear at the fire site. Do not take off the SCBA while starting this process. Leaving on your SCBA will help you avoid breathing in dangerous materials from your gear's surfaces as you decontaminate them. 

Avoid Extended Exposure to Diesel Exhaust

Exhaust fumes from the fire apparatus can also create a hazard. Before starting the vehicle, always open the bay doors, and never run the apparatus without having proper ventilation and open doors. Take the equipment outside before completing this step.

Also, protect other areas of the fire station from the exhaust. Seal and keep the doors to living quarters at the station closed. Request that these doors remain shut when the diesel has its engine running, even if the bay doors are open.

Follow Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors

Paying attention to your overall well-being may also reduce your cancer risk, regardless of your job. Schedule regular doctor appointments. Annual medical exams can identify signs of cancer early. Early detection can make the difference in survival and treatment success. Also, eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, find ways to cope with stress, maintain good sleep hygiene and stop smoking.


Another possible means of cancer prevention in firefighters is using particulate-blocking gear, such as equipment from the INNOTEX® GRAY™ line. This product family blocks microscopic particles ranging from 0.1 to 1.0 microns, which firefighters encounter in more than 98% of fires. Though the material keeps particulates out, it still offers breathability for comfort.

The INNOTEX® GRAY™ line features PPE to protect firefighters from head to toe. PPE available with this innovative material includes the following.

  • Hoods: The INNOTEX® GRAY™ hood has full coverage with a moisture-wicking interior to ensure comfort. Plus, it blocks out 99.9% of particulate matter without making noise against your ears.
  • Gloves: INNOTEX® 885S structural gloves have a lightweight, cut-resistant and heat-resistant structure. They meet or exceed NFPA 1971 requirements.
  • Pant closures: Pant closures can allow smoke and particulate matter into your suit and expose you to contamination. Using INNOTEX® GRAY™ in this area can reduce particulate exposure.
  • Wristlets: While wearing gloves can protect the hands, wristlets that seal the gap between the coat and gloves may block dangerous particles from entering your coat.
  • Ankle shields: Ankle shields seal the bottom of pants, allowing firefighters to move in any direction necessary without allowing for smoke and contaminants to seep into their pants' legs. 
  • Waist protection: Securing the opening between the coat and pants with INNOTEX® GRAY™ waist protection can stop dangerous materials from getting close to your body.

Because you need to continually care for and clean your PPE, INNOTEX® GRAY™ must perform well even after multiple cleanings. The company has tested its product to ensure it will continue to provide 99.9% particle-blocking performance after 100 wash-and-dry cycles.

This material's breathability keeps firefighters cooler, which is crucial to reducing exposure to toxic materials. A study indicates that higher temperatures result in more toxin absorption, especially around the neck and head. With every five-degree increase in skin temperature, the dermal absorption rate increases by 400%. By helping prevent even a small increase in skin temperature, cool-wearing clothing can reduce carcinogenic exposure through the skin.

Purchase Bunker Gear With INNOTEX® GRAY™ Technology at BGS

Though firefighting poses some hazards, you can work toward reducing cancer risk as much as possible through your choice of behaviors and equipment. Following a healthy lifestyle and maintaining cleanliness after carcinogen exposure at fires can help. Using INNOTEX® GRAY products to reduce particulate matter that reaches the skin can also lower your cancer risk.

Find out more about INNOTEX® GRAY™ technology used in a variety of firefighting products at Bunker Gear Specialists. We are the exclusive provider of this brand in Louisiana. Browse our products or contact us with questions about how INNOTEX® GRAY™ products may help reduce cancer risk or how to order.


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