ALBERT LEA, Minn.- From battling flames to rescuing someone who fell through the ice firefighters risk their lives as part of their job. They’re also at a higher risk for something else – cancer. Now an effort is underway in our area to change that.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention firefighters have a greater chance of getting cancer than the U.S. population as a whole.
It’s been almost exactly two years that firefighter Brett Boss with the Albert Lea Fire Department was diagnosed with the disease. Now he’s helping to create some legislation that he hopes will prevent others from getting cancer.
“It started in August with some small hip pain and it just kept getting worse and worse,” said Boss.
Boss spends his days battling fires, but in December of 2014 he began his battle with stage four cancer and he wasn’t alone. Several others with the Albert Lea Fire Department were faced with the same fight.
“3 guys within 3 years in a department of 16 and it caught everybody off guard,” said Boss. “Especially with mine and then getting a new chief and he gets it right after coming here. It was all just too fast and we had to do something right away to stop this.”
So now Boss is teaming up with State Representative Peggy Bennett to create legislation that will protect firefighters.
“We’re just looking at small steps for the bill because we don’t want to come on too strong and too fast and then the bill gets thrown out,” said Boss.
Bennett says this is an important topic.
“Firefighters are near and dear to my heart,” said Bennett. “They’re part of our community and I’m excited to reach out to lawmakers and get something going.”
According to the CDC firefighters are three times more likely to get cancer than the general population.
“They’re risking their lives in more ways than basic firefighting and we want to make sure they’re taken care of and we can prevent these things from happening,” said Bennett.
Their main focus is passing a bill that covers early prevention so these common cancers found in firefighters can become less common.
“If this is a danger related to the job then I think we need to do this and research is showing 68% of firefighters will come down with cancer on average,” said Bennett.
Another common cancer found in firefighters is thyroid cancer, but the ALFD are already taking precautions.
“We have a halo hood that they have to protect fire fighters around the neck and in the thyroid and skin area and it’s a lot thicker material than our old one,” said Boss.
Their department is also making sure that everyone out at a fire takes off all their gear and washes up before returning to the station. This will help them decrease their chance of getting cancer.
The Minnesota Legislature convenes on January 3rd and Representative Bennett is hoping to make progress on a bill this session.