Fighting Cancer in the Fire Service

Grant Number: EMW-2014-FP-00200
Principle Investigator: Jefferey L. Burgess, M.D., M.S., M.P.H.
University of Arizona

The health problem. Firefighters are more likely than non-firefighters to experience cancer and cancer-related deaths. A key concern is exposure to toxic gases, harmful chemicals, and smoke that firefighters encounter routinely over their lifetime of service. 

Fully understanding the specific exposures and cellular mechanisms leading to cancer in firefighters and identifying the most effective ways to reduce cancer risk requires tracking thousands of firefighters, their activities, exposures, and health over many years. This must be done in a rigorous scientific manner in order that the data will allow researchers to analyze and interpret results. 

Approach. In 2015, Dr. Jefferey Burgess at the University of Arizona and colleagues sought support for the ambitious task of developing the organizational structure, partners, and data needed. 

Realizing the importance of the work to firefighters, FEMA AFG R&D awarded the initial funding to develop the Firefighter Cancer Cohort Study (FFCCS). 

In 2018, Dr. Alberto Caban-Martinez at the University of Miami and colleagues applied for and were awarded a grant to extend the reach of the firefighter cancer study. 

With this second award, the FFCCS proved and expanded its original concept of establishing an infrastructure that would support a multi-center research effort. The new AFG R&D award added the deliberate collection of data from specific firefighter subgroups: fire instructors, arson investigators, volunteer and wildland firefighters. 

In only two years, the FFCCS has created a powerful engine, as evidenced by successful recruitment of firefighters from multiple fire departments. For each department, the enrollment includes new recruits with and without previous fire exposure and incumbents with many years of experience. Many data collection activities are underway for the enrolled departments. As shown below, biomarker data are collected and then shipped to project labs for testing and analyses. Groups of firefighters help the researchers to tailor the process to firefighter needs. 

The FFCCS is poised to grow substantially. New proposed studies are in the pipeline that will further expand the FFCCS and provide additional essential information on specific aspects of cancer in the fire service. Already there is a wait list for new enrollments. 

AFG is taking a leadership role in this fight against cancer, a serious and often fatal disease that is taking a disproportionate toll among firefighters. 

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