EXTINGUISHING CANCER: Local fire department honors Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month

The Duluth Fire Department is taking steps to stamp out cancer among their ranks for Firefighter Cancer Awareness month.
Published: Jan. 9, 2023 at 12:33 PM CST
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - The Duluth Fire Department is taking steps to stamp out cancer among their ranks for Firefighter Cancer Awareness month.

According to the CDC, firefighters are more likely to contract stomach, lung, ovarian and prostate cancer than the general population.

Those cancer diagnoses can be attributed to heavy smoke exposure on a constant basis.

“It is important, it is a problem,” Shawn Krizaj, chief of the Duluth Fire Department, said.

Krizaj and his department have seen the uptick of cancer hitting their crew firsthand.

“On average, we see cancer higher than the general population,” he said.

The crew wants to make sure that the public knows about Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, dedicating it to the health and well-being of those that put on fire suits every day.

“This is something that firefighters go through not just in January but every day,” Krizaj said.

Since its inception, the department has taken steps to try and limit the amount of toxic exposure to the crew.

“We do have an extractor at every station all our firefighters can get cleaned up, wash their gear, have it ready to go for the next call or the next shift anyway,’ he said.

An extractor is a heavy-duty washing machine that cleans the suits of firefighters after they make a call to a fire. There is now one in every Duluth Fire Department station, according to Krizaj.

In addition to extractors, each truck and engine has a “cancer prevention compartment” which is where firefighters store their dirty suits after a call, keeping their clean equipment separate.

Fighting flames is half the battle for some, and fighting cancer is now the target of a few Duluth firefighters.

“We’ve actually got a person who’s out right now, one of our current members right now is battling cancer, prostate cancer,” Krizaj said.

Krizaj said there are resources for firefighters struggling with cancer or other illnesses.

“Getting that word out there that this does happen, if you do have cancer, you’re not alone, there’s a lot of people that have it,” he said.

If you or someone you know is in need of those resources, you can visit the MnFIRE Hometown Heroes Assistance Program here.