The Corpus Christi Fire Department is taking extra safety measures to reduce firefighter’s risk of getting cancer.
According to the CDC, firefighters are at a higher risk of getting cancer compared to the general population. That’s because firefighters can be exposed to cancer-causing toxins and other dangerous substances.
Battalion Chief Scott Marsh of the Corpus Christi Fire Department was diagnosed with melanoma in June 2009. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, and his was quickly spreading.
“We had no signs and symptoms of it,” Marsh said. “I had a mole on my foot that tripled in size in three weeks.”
When Marsh was diagnosed, he was told he had a 50 percent chance of living another five years. Nine years later, he’s still a Corpus Christi firefighter. Marsh’s gear, like a badge of honor, shows the blazes he’s battled over the past 23 years.
“It used to be as a fireman, the dirtier your gear, the better fireman you were,” Marsh said.
But his doctors told him that badge could have cost him his life.
According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than the general population. Firefighters also have a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population.
However, CCFD is ramping up its measures to reduce their firefighters’ risk of getting cancer.
After battling a fire, there are now assigned firefighters who wash off other firemen and their gear. This washes away any carcinogens. Firefighters are also given bags to carry their gear in. This helps contain cancer-causing toxins. Plus, firefighters’ gear must be thoroughly cleaned at least once a year.
“We’re trying to provide the firefighter with a way to get some of that [toxins] off so they’re not carrying it around and they’re not carrying it in the station, because we live in those stations and that’s our home,” said Rodney Appleby, a Corpus Christi firefighter and EMT.
However Marsh hopes Fire Station 14 will be his home for years to come. He’s been cancer-free for nine years, and he hopes others hear his story.
“Every day that I wake up is a good day, and I make sure that I’m doing everything that I can to abate cancer,” Marsh said.