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Tucson Fire Department working to reduce cancer risk for front line workers

Tucson Fire Department
Posted at 6:27 AM, Jan 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-13 08:27:29-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Layers of smoke, ash and debris: it's all in a typical day's work for a Tucson firefighter.

"It's more like a HAZMAT scene than sometimes it is a fire itself. Because all of the things that we build our homes with, that we fill our homes with, when they burn, they give off toxins that increase the levels of our exposures and then, ultimately, could lead to cancer," said Tucson Fire Department Safety and Wellness Division Deputy Chief, Darin Wallentine.

Firefighters are 9% more likely to develop cancer. That discovery was made with the help of the Tucson Fire Department. Their employees are at the center of a research study that has been conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NIOSH, University of Miami and the University of Arizona since 2014.

"Much of our research and work in cancer prevention, all started with Tom Quesnel. Tom Quesnel was one of our Fire Cause Investigators who developed cancer. The troubles that he had led us into this research that we're conducting," said Wallentine.

Tom Quesnel's name is etched into a memorial, alongside six others, outside of Tucson Fire Department's headquarters.

"This is a way for us to be able to remember those who have paid that ultimate sacrifice. We are then motivated to try to find ways to prevent these premature deaths from occurring," said Wallentine.

Wallentine has worked to change policies and implement safety measures to protect the men and women on the front lines.

"We have provided two sets of turnouts to our firefighters. We have implemented ways to minimize their exposure at the fire scenes by doing wash downs, by getting our crews back to the station and getting a shower as soon as possible," said Wallentine.

After leaving a scene, firefighters are required to wash their uniforms in a high tech washing machine. It helps remove toxins that would otherwise follow them home.

"Probably one of the most important things that we're doing right now, through Tucson Delivers, is the rebuild and remodel of our fire stations," said Wallentine.

Those remodels will help decrease exposure to toxins and allow firefighters to focus on helping others in need.

"We are partners with them in providing their public safety. We are here for them whenever they call," said Wallentine.
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