Firefighter union raises awareness about new health risks for fire crews

ROANOKE COUNTY (WSLS 10) - The Roanoke County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Union is hoping to raise awareness and reverse a startling trend.

Firefighters face cancer rates substantially higher than most Americans, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

They get testicular cancer two times as often as the average American and firefighters have a 1.5 chance to get Multiple Myeloma and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

"We've been seeing an increase in cancer rates in our firefighters. We're thinking the research has shown that it's comprised of combustion and diesel exhaust," Greg Sazono, the Vice President of the Roanoke County Firefighters and Paramedics Union said.

Members in the Firefighter Cancer Network said taking preventative measures like washing boots, jackets and pants is one way to lessen the risk of getting cancer.

"If I can do anything to hopefully prevent other firefighters from getting that and having go through that experience for them and that their families that's what I like to do," said Joe Schumacher, the State Director for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

People who attended who had cancer, like Gary Houff, a retired Roanoke County fire fighter, said he's glad the union is raising awareness about the health risks associated with their jobs.

He servered for 30 years and got rectal cancer from fighting the flames.

"Doctor advised me I had a 6-inch tumor and it was cancer. It floored me, never went into thinking that would be the outcome," said Houff.

Firefighters said in January they plan to go representatives in the General Assembly to see if they can push for legislation for firefighter safety and cancer prevention.