The Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial will join with THV11 for a Helping Home fundraiser Friday, March 30. Organizers are working to help lessen the cancer risk for men and women in the fire service. It comes one day before the annual memorial service on the state capitol grounds.
At this year's event, names of three men who died of cancer are going on the wall. So many of the men and women in that memorial died in fast moving ways such as explosions or walls collapsing. But with so many chemicals in our modern furniture and homes, cancer is killing firefighters at alarming rates.
“There's nothing to say how long it takes for you to get cancer or which fire it was that gave you cancer,” said Matthew Stallings, the political director for the Arkansas Professional Fire Fighters.
“This is the newest, greatest threat to the firefighters,” said Jackie Warren with the Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
The science is now established. For men and women on the front lines protecting our lives and property from fire, the dangers continue after the fire is out. Dangerous chemicals from furniture and modern paints get into firefighting gear and clothing, especially the hoods that drape over a firefighter’s neck and head.
“Having those hoods in [those] areas where you have greater rates of absorption, that's why we have greater rates of cancer in those areas,” Stallings said.
Reducing that risk means cleaning the gear. Leaders in the fire service have made progress giving departments of all sizes access to the high-powered washing machines called extractors. Protocols are in place urging firefighters to use special handi-wipes and remove their soot covered gear. But challenges remain, especially in smaller towns.
“People want to focus on the extractors, having a second set of turnouts having a second hood, second gloves,” Warren said. “Anything 'second.' Some departments barely have firsts.”
Friday’s fundraiser will feature a way to get extra hoods out to those departments. It will also help up-keep of the memorial as three names of firefighters join the wall this year who each died of cancer. Getting a true read on how many are getting sick is also part of the effort.
“Anybody who is a firefighter, anybody that knows a firefighter who has cancer, who has dealt with cancer, who has passed away from cancer, we need their information,” said Stallings, who urges people to share that information in a database on the union’s website.
Meanwhile, the busy weekend at the memorial and upcoming conventions of fire chiefs and frontline fire personnel have organizers hopeful they can continue to make progress and spread the benefit out to all parts of the state.
“We can't take care of all 18,000 firefighters or more that we have in this state, and we're over 90 percent volunteers,” Warren said. “You have a lot of the small departments in these little, small towns that really do need some help.”
THV11 will be live Friday night at Central Fire Station on 7th and Chester streets between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. sharing more information on the need.