First UK firefighters tested for cancer in new life-saving research

Life-saving firefighter cancer and health monitoring has now begun with the first samples carried out in Tyne and Wear, as part of a ground-breaking UK wide research project commissioned by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). The research is being carried out by the University of Central Lancashire, led by world experts in fire chemistry and toxicology.

Participating firefighters are volunteering to provide blood and urine samples to be analysed, with the first samples taken last week. The results will be used to identify the number of firefighters with occupational cancers and other diseases resulting from exposure to toxic contaminants in fire.

Tyne and Wear Deputy Chief Fire Officer welcomed this research as a ‘huge step forward’ for firefighter safety.

This follows the publication of new research in January, finding that instances of cancer among firefighters aged 35-39 is up to 323% higher than in the general population in the same age category. The research also found that firefighters are significantly more likely to die from cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and several other diseases.

This research is the first of its kind to take place for firefighters in the UK, despite the World Health Organisation ruling that occupational exposure as a firefighter is carcinogenic.

Riccardo la Torre, FBU National Officer said:

‘I’m proud of our members in Tyne and Wear for participating in the first firefighter health monitoring of its kind in the UK, and in our union for commissioning this research. Tyne and Wear is setting a positive example for how fire services can assist in making real steps forwards to save firefighters lives from occupational cancer and diseases.

Health monitoring must be rolled out across the UK, as a vital part of serious measures to make firefighting a safer profession. No one should face illness, or worse, from going to work. We can and must be the generation to make the profession safer’

Anna Stec, professor in fire chemistry and toxicity at the University of Central Lancashire, said:

“This is the first study of its kind in UK and the research brings to light the wide range of occupational hazards that firefighters face.

“It is vital that firefighters can continue to do their jobs as safely as possible, and the research shows that measures such as health monitoring and reducing exposure from contaminants at the workplace will play an important part in protecting firefighters.

“We hope that working with organisations like TWFRS will not only help us to create a safer working environment in Tyne and Wear, but will also introduce a change to the wider sector.”

Wayne Anderson, FBU Secretary for Tyne and Wear said:

“This is a vital step for the fire and rescue sector, and we are pleased that the fire service in our region is for working with us to make this research a priority.

“The evidence shows that firefighters’ health is at risk because of exposure to toxic contaminants in fire. We need to continually challenge and improve our preventative and protective measures for all firefighters, to save lives from cancer and other diseases.”

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