FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack reports on the union’s new DECON campaign, aiming to protect firefighters from toxic contaminants, and appeals to fire and rescue senior leaders for help in getting this training in front of all firefighters. Firefighters are used to handling hazardous situations. Of course, nobody actively seeks out danger, but addressing risk is part of the job and something that firefighters live with on a day- to-day basis.
But firefighters are also used to minimising danger wherever possible – we know that nobody, including ourselves, should be put unnecessarily at risk.
Minimising unnecessary risk is the thinking behind the FBU’s new DECON campaign, which aims to protect firefighters from the toxic contaminants that fires can release, and the effects it is thought they may have with regards to cancer and other diseases. The campaign, based on ground-breaking research by the FBU in conjunction with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), consists of video-based training and awareness-building materials.
It focuses on 11 easy actions that firefighters can take to reduce their own, their colleagues’ and their family’s exposure to contaminants. From cleaning kit regularly to showering and changing before greeting loved ones at home, all of the actions help minimise the risks from contaminants from fires.
Whilst more research is needed to be certain over the links between contaminants and diseases [see FIRE July/August pg 79 ‘The physiological, immunological and contaminant monitoring of firefighters and instructors’], there are indications that the danger that contaminants pose could be very significant indeed. As part of the research the FBU have initiated with UCLan, we have found early suggestions that firefighters may be four times more likely to have cancer than the rest of the population.
The effect that these diseases can have on firefighters is devastating. As the films in the training package show, in 2012 Essex firefighter Sid McNally was diagnosed with cancer at the base of his throat. Thankfully, he made a full recovery. But his friend and colleague Steve, who had been diagnosed with the same head and neck cancer, died several years later. The two had served on the same watch together.
Sid has since spoken out on the effect of contaminants, saying that he is convinced that aspects of his career in the service brought on the disease.
Stories like this underline the importance of the training we have developed. And this is where I want to make a direct appeal to fire and rescue senior leaders: we need your help to get this training in front of all firefighters. Over the coming months, the FBU will be sharing this training through our branches, encouraging all brigades to take to half an hour to watch the training videos.
Whilst we hope this training will have a significant impact in the fight against contaminants and their deadly effects, it will not go the whole way. The Firefighters’ Cancer and Disease Registry is a database which UCLan are building to investigate the links between contaminants and these diseases. We need every firefighter, serving or retired, to sign up to it. Doing so will help us build vital knowledge and develop advice and screening to counter contaminants – in other words, signing up will help save lives. All fire and rescue services and every chief fire officer should support this initiative and encourage employees to register.
It is likely that contaminants have already taken so much from the firefighting community. But with this training we can begin to fight back and improve safety for firefighters. And with the help of fire and rescue services across the country, we can go even further.
Find out more and access training at: