CBS46 investigates invisible danger striking firefighters - CBS46 News

CBS46 investigates invisible danger striking firefighters

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Firefighting is clearly a dangerous job but a new study confirms a hidden danger is putting our brave firefighters at an even greater risk.

A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found firefighters in three cities had higher rates of digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers than the general population.  Fire departments in Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco participated in the study.

A picture of health, Fairburn firefighter Jason Trotter, 36, was shocked to learn he had developed Hodgkin's lymphoma. 

"In the back of your mind there's always a doubt you may not be here to do this," said Trotter as he finished kicking a soccer ball around with his wife Sarah and their two children at their home near Newnan. 

"I'm in great shape. I don't smoke. I don't chew [tobacco]. I don't do any of those things, typical ways people get cancer and it was horrible to think that it could all be taken away."

It's not something firefighters or the public talk much about said Brian Scudder, a firefighter from Woodstock who beat Hodgkin's lymphoma a decade ago.

"Unfortunately, there isn't the huge parade of trucks coming to your funeral and TV cameras because otherwise that's all the news would be full of because there are that many deaths from cancer," said Scudder.

Scudder's supervisor, Woodstock Fire Captain Jeff Hughes, was also diagnosed with cancer.

Hughes got choked up when he talked about telling his 9 year old son of his colon cancer.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 71 retired and working firefighters died from cancer from 2008 through 2011.

CBS46 has been unable to find out how many firefighters in Georgia have developed cancer. It's not something the state or most fire chiefs track.

When investigative reporter Jeff Chirico asked for the number of Atlanta Fire Department personnel who had been treated for cancer, Chief Kelvin Cochran was unable to come up with the data.

However, Miami's fire department recently reported that between 2008 and 2010, 32% of its insured personnel had been diagnosed with cancer.

Cochran admitted it's information he needs to have in order to better protect Atlanta's force.

So why are so many firefighters developing cancer? 

Much of the products and materials in homes today are made of petroleum which it toxic when inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

But even the place we expect firefighters to be safest are fraught with dangers --fire stations. Engines burn diesel in bays next to the living quarters where firefighters eat and sleep. And protective gear are often exposed to trucks' exhausts and reworn with toxins from previous fires cling to the fabric.

Most states help first responders who develop cancer by paying workers' compensation benefits but Georgia is one of 17 states that does not have a cancer presumption law to provide for that.

Cochran said his department has not paid workers' compensation to those who develop cancer because it doesn't have the evidence that the cancer was contracted in the line of duty.

Trotters' doctors would not confirm that his cancer was caused by any particular fire or hazardous material exposure, so Trotter is unable to collect workers' compensation.

Trotter receives a portion of his salary through short-term disability as he recovers.

Trotter's fellow firefighters have formed a foundation to help Trotter and his family. 

For more information on firefighter cancer awareness and prevention, contact the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

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