CDC: Firefighters face increased risk of cancer

SHREWSBURY, YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cancer may be the number one killer claiming firefighters lives over time.

Now, besides battling flames, firefighters have to fight invisible carcinogens which may be in the air or on their equipment.

Firefighters are like heroes to many children.

"They fight fires and keep us safe," said Levi, a little boy in awe of firefighters.

The good guys who keep us safe, except they need protection now more than ever, according to Tony Myers, the Shrewsbury Volunteer Fire Chief.

"Today's fires burn totally different than they did twenty years ago just by the materials in the house," said Myers.

Myers been fighting fires for 40 years. He says structures are built differently now: less wood, more plastic and new chemicals, carcinogens firefighters didn't have to worry about years ago.

"One overstuffed chair in your living room can kill you in just a couple breaths for gases it puts off," said Myers.

Prostate, breast, brain, and throat cancer are on the rise among firefighters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shrewsbury Volunteer Fire Company staying vigilant, purchasing second sets of gear, separate washing machines to prevent contaminating station linen, and special firefighting wipes.

"Anything you handle now, you can pass on. Dirty hands are cancerous hands basically," added Myers.

Tim Solobay, Pennsylvania's Fire Commissioner urges volunteer and career firefighters to be proactive: "The importance of firefighters wearing their breathing apparatus inside the building even when the fire's out and the importance of keeping your gear clean."

Solobay says the number one cause of death for firefighters is still heart attacks and strokes on scene. Over time, though, cancer may become the number one killer so it's important for companies to be proactive.