Latest News

Firefighters receive cancer screening thanks to recent grant

When responding to fires, firefighters are often exposed to unseen dangers outside of the flames. In a burning building there are hundreds of chemicals in the form of gases, vapors and particulates, and some of these chemical substances are known or suspected to cause cancer, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Statistically, firefighters are disproportionately affected by occupational cancer — it is the No. 1 cause of firefighters’ line-of-duty deaths.

Thanks to a $57,000 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) recently accepted by the City of Morgantown to fund cancer screenings, Morgantown firefighters were screened this week including multi-cancer early detection blood testing and comprehensive diagnostic ultrasounds for early diagnosis and treatment of occupational cancer.

The screenings were held at the Morgantown Fire Department’s Northside Fire Station from Dec. 4–Dec. 7.

“Cancer is the No. 1 killer of firefighters. It used to be heart disease … but now cancer is the No. 1 killer,” said Lieutenant Jayson Nicewarner, with the Morgantown Fire Department. “Firefighters are 9% more likely to get cancer than the general population, and 14% more likely to die from cancer than the general population.”

According to data from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), cancer caused 66% of the career firefighter line-of-duty deaths from 2002 to 2019. Heart disease caused 18% of career line-of-duty deaths for the same period.

A 2013 NIOSH study found the cancers most responsible for this higher risk were respiratory (lung, mesothelioma), gastrointestinal (oral cavity, esophageal, large intestine) and kidney.

The study found firefighters have a 100% (2x) increased risk of getting mesothelioma and a 129% increased risk of dying from it. They also have a 62% higher risk of getting esophageal cancer with a 39% higher risk of dying.

The MFD screenings funded by the AFG money were given to firefighters by GRAIL, a healthcare company whose mission is to detect cancer early and United Diagnostic Services, LLC, which specializes in comprehensive wellness screening and testing programs through advanced diagnostic techniques.

Without the funding, it would likely be more expensive for firefighters to obtain such thorough testing.

“You know as well as I do you can’t get an ultrasound somewhere for $325 that tests 10 or 12 different body parts. You know that’s impossible to do, so being able to receive this grant has been such a huge blessing to so many of us firefighters,” Nicewarner said.

“I know plenty of people who have done these screenings that have caught cancers early and been able to get treatment. Without this opportunity, none of this would be possible,” he said. “Without these screenings there becomes a greater risk for these individuals who are putting their lives on the line for others every day for potential cancer down the line.”

Many states have established cancer presumptions, or laws establishing a presumption that certain types of cancer contracted by firefighters are the result of duty-related exposure, which West Virginia firefighters are hoping to get into state laws here.

“There’s a lot of coworkers (firefighters) not just at Morgantown, but throughout the state that I know that have gotten different types of cancer and we’ve been fighting really hard to get cancer presumptions put into state law to help us with workers comp and things like that,” Nicewarner said.

TWEET @DominionPostWV