HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — New research from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), shows firefighters face a higher risk of a cancer diagnosis than the general public.

Here in the Rio Grande Valley, McAllen Fire Department Deputy Chief James Farrell said cancer awareness is huge.

“Unfortunately in the McAllen Fire Department, we’ve lost some firefighters to cancer that have been retired but we’ve also lost some that were still on duty,” he said.

According to South Texas Health System’s Family Medicine Specialist, Dr. Chris Casso, toxic agents that are present in fires pose a threat to firefighter health. 

“During the combustion of the material that is burning, they are exposed to very toxic agents such as carbon monoxide or asbestos or benzene, and so these agents are known to cause cancer,” she said.

According to Deputy Chief Farrell, in order to advocate for cancer awareness, certain habits had to be changed within the firefighter community.

“Back in the day, your gear being dirty or your helmet being dirty after a fire was sort of worn as a badge of honor, and now we’re really promoting steps to deter firefighters from doing that,” he said.

Deputy Chief Farrell said all firefighters at the McAllen Fire Department are provided with a breathing apparatus, PPE, and wipes to clean their necks and face thoroughly after a fire. 

He also said the city of McAllen has been heavily involved when it comes to firefighter health.

“The city of McAllen blesses us with outstanding equipment, engineering instruments, our new fire stations are equipped with a ventilation system to help when the fire trucks startup inside the station, it gets rid of that exhaust right away to help eliminate exposure,” he said.

According to Dr. Casso, all prevention measures should be taken seriously especially outside the workplace.

“Making sure that they go through the appropriate training; getting their regular check-ups; as well as trying to prevent other exposure to other toxins outside of the workforce, you know so try not to smoke, try not to do any vaping anything else that can harm your lungs and increase your risk for lung cancer and other forms of cancers as well,” she said.

As technology advances, Deputy Chief Farrell said the McAllen Fire Department will aim to use all tools to help prevent cancer in the workplace.

“We have all the necessary tools to help protect not only the people in the community but the responders as well,” he said.

Additional resources for firefighters can be found at the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, the International Association of Firefighters, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.