Understanding the Dangers of the Job
When flames smolder and rise - as black smoke fills the blue sky; a noble few with courage and valor run toward the chaos. These heroes who we call firefighters pledge to take care of families in their community in the face of destruction. Firefighting is undoubtedly one of the most honorable professions, yet also one of the most inherently dangerous. Risks of burns, smoke inhalation, and building collapse are very real dangers dealt with on a daily basis. However, air pollution remains a serious threat to the lives of firefighters nationwide. Throughout the course of duty, firefighters have an increased likelihood of asbestos exposure, which can result in serious illness - including mesothelioma, a severe form of cancer.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is an organic compound that consists of naturally-occurring silicate crystals, which has been used for centuries as a building material. During the Industrial Revolution, asbestos was used extensively in construction, a practice that continued through much of the 20th century. The material was often used in building insulation, as well as in flooring, roofing and electrical applications. Known for its durability and fire resistance, asbestos was once viewed as a “super mineral,” until evidence of severe health effects began to emerge.
Doctors and healthcare professionals started to note a high incidence of mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure, which has resulted in bans of the substance across the globe. Unfortunately, the toxin is still legal in the United States, and is widely used in currently industrializing countries such as Russia, China, Brazil and Kazakhstan.
How Can One Be Exposed?
While firefighter’s SCBA will keep them protected from airborne particulate matter, the risk of exposure increases as the site of the fire begins to cool and debris is extinguished. Although asbestos’ fire resistance is noteworthy, it does not mean the substance is totally fireproof. While under duress from heat, asbestos material will begin to crack and fragment, releasing particles into the air. These particles can settle in the debris long after the fire has been contained and extinguished, posing a threat to those working on any cleanup efforts. The friability of the material is what makes it so deadly, the fibers of asbestos are inhaled or ingested and then may later become cancerous. The best form of prevention for any firefighter is vigilant usage of protective equipment, including proper respirators, even after the fire has been extinguished.
Secondary exposure to asbestos has proven to be just as dangerous as exposure is for those working with the carcinogen firsthand. Any amount of contact with the fibers puts you at risk to a number of health-related issues. Learn more about secondhand exposure at www.mesothelioma.com.
The Threat of Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is an incredibly aggressive form of cancer that most commonly affects the lining of the lungs, and, in rarer cases, the lining of the abdominal cavity or heart. For information regarding symptoms and treatment, click here.
How to Stay Safe
A tremendous risk is assumed every time a firefighter straps on his or her helmet, but safety can be ensured through the proper precautions. Correct usage of equipment, awareness of one’s surroundings, and education of hazards can help to alleviate certain dangers - allowing firefighters to continue to pursue and extinguish further blazes.
Our Commitment to Health & Safety
Fire-Dex is committed to developing health and safety solutions. Find out how our gear can help keep you and your department safe!
Information provided by Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance for Mesothelioma Awareness Day. Visit www.mesothelioma.com to learn more!