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Thinking About A Career in Firefighting? You Might Be Tripling Your Chances of Cancer


For many young men across the country, becoming a firefighter is a calling. The knowledge that you will make a difference in the world is a big reason that people pick this career. Financially, it can also pay well, depending on your location, and it tends to be somewhat of a glamorous role. 

However, the life of a firefighter isn’t without risks. In fact, danger is present every time you need to strap on your gear. This is the unavoidable reality of a career in firefighting.

Studies have found that firefighters have three times the risk of certain cancers such as leukemia, esophageal, and prostate cancer. The prolonged exposure to carcinogens, especially for those who spend decades in this career, is a serious health concern. Let’s explore this further. 

Why Do Firefighters Deal With Such High Rates of Cancer?

Firefighters face a higher likelihood of cancer when compared to the general population. This is mainly due to exposure to carcinogens in the line of duty. Factors such as toxic fumes in burning buildings and exposure to hazardous materials are obvious contributors. Ironically, however, the main culprit comes from the protective gear and equipment that firefighters use.

A lot of firefighting gear contains Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs). These chemicals are used due to their water and oil-repelling qualities. Toxic chemicals like Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs) have also been used as flame retardants in textiles, including firefighters’ turnout gear. 

Aqueous film-forming foam is also something that firefighters are often exposed to in training exercises. It contains Perfluorooctanoic and Perfluorooctanoic acid, two carcinogenic compounds that exist in the per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) family. Exposure to AFFF foam has widely been acknowledged as a contributor to cancer.

What Types of Cancers Are Most Common Among Firefighters?

We now know of some of the many factors that cause cancer. Let us then take a quick look at the most common types that firefighters are prone to. 

These include:

  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Testicular cancer
  • Multiple myeloma

Naturally, the likelihood of the above will depend on the extent of exposure and other factors like genetics and lifestyle. However, it is still unfortunate that firefighters have to deal with greater risks as a result of their careers.

What Is Being Done to Make Firefighting a Safer Career?

Quite a lot, actually. For one, the number of AFFF firefighting foam lawsuit cases that have been filed has had positive results. Many firefighting stations are moving away from AFFF to safer alternatives. These include fluorine-free foams that do not contain PFAS or other fluorinated compounds.

According to TruLaw, there are ongoing class action lawsuits that seek to hold manufacturers of these AFFF-based products responsible. If settlements are reached, payouts between $40,000 to $300,000 are possible based on the strength of the case. 

There is also a lot more awareness among firefighters themselves about the health risks that their career poses. Many firefighters are starting to take decontamination protocols more seriously than before. 

This includes showering within the hour that you were exposed to toxic substances. Similarly, there is more awareness about keeping turnout or other gear out of living areas like kitchens, bunk rooms, etc. This is because firefighters are realizing how easy it is for contamination to occur.

Interestingly, in many online firefighter communities, there are fascinating discussions about the unhealthy lifestyles that the career enables. Some believe poor sleep habits, heavy alcohol use, and unhealthy diets are also major contributors to cancer. 


There can be no denying the challenges that a career as a firefighter brings. Take some time to do your own research and speak to firefighters about what their life is like. 

They can educate you on the latest safety developments and any new precautionary methods that have recently been introduced. 

Cancer is a terrible disease, but knowing that you are at risk should help you with early detection. 

In that regard, examine your body in front of a mirror. Watch for any changes in your moles, freckles, abnormal lumps or bumps, and other early indicators of cancer. Keep track of them during your time as a firefighter. If you notice any growth in them, you should definitely talk to your doctor.

Of course, you shouldn’t be waiting for signs to appear before consulting a doctor. A monthly check-up should be something you regularly conduct. Cancer, if detected early, can be relatively straightforward to treat. Let it go undetected for too long, though, and the spread might be too much to handle. 

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