Screenings needed to combat high cancer risk for firefighters

Mar. 13—Firefighters are exposed to dangerous carcinogens during every fire they fight.

Firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher chance of dying from cancer, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Center. Additionally, 66% of firefighter line-of-duty deaths from 2002-2019 were caused by cancer.

That's where the Waynesville Professional Firefighters Association Local 5247 is stepping in.

The organization wants to pay for head-to-toe cancer screenings for every Waynesville firefighter and is holding a fundraiser to support the cause on Saturday, March 23, at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville.

"It will detect some early cancers that other tests won't pick up," Lloyd Messer, president of the union, said of the screenings.

In a sister fire department, screenings detected active cancer cases among three firefighter who showed no outward signs of having cancer.

"They were able to do rapid intervention and they are cancer-free," Messer said.

The screenings cost $300 per person, for a total of nearly $4,000 to screen the 13 union members with the Waynesville fire department.

"If our fundraiser goes above and beyond, it will be for the entire fire department in Waynesville," Messer said.

To screen the entire department will cost another $2,000-3,000.

The plan is to do the screenings annually, with this year's results serving as a baseline for future tests. A head-to-toe screening conducted with an ultrasound takes about 20-30 minutes to complete.

These screenings are not typically covered by insurance, Messer said.

"If we can get some of this early-stage cancer detected, it is going to be a game changer in these people's lives," he said.

Firefighters are exposed to carcinogens released from burning buildings. New construction materials are more hazardous today, Messer said.

"It's not like it was in the '40s and '50s when everything was natural materials," he said.

Drop by Frog Level Brewing on March 23 and grab a drink and some food to help the cause. From every beer sale, $1 will be donated, plus a percentage of all food sales.

Additionally, there will be a raffle. Tickets are $5 each or $20 for five. You can win prize baskets, with themes like outdoor activities, tools or gift cards. One of the larger prizes is a fully-furnished fly fishing trip.

Local businesses have donated prizes for the baskets, and the raffle tickets were donated by The Print Haus.

"They've been very generous to help us with that," Messer said.

Union members will be at Frog Level all day during the fundraiser interacting with the public. Messer said the day will serve as more than just a fundraiser.

"We'll be there the entire day to answer questions and mingle with the public," he said. "We do so much more than try to raise money that day. We use it as a public education day, as well."

Farm Bureau is also sponsoring one firefighter screening with a $300 donation.

"That's $300 we don't have to worry about," Messer said. "If any other businesses want to do that, we welcome that."