Maine Scientist to Study Link Between Fire Fighters and Cancer

Caitlin Burchill

Updated 10 months ago

Firefighters risk their lives daily for those in the community.

A scientist says there are many health risks involved and what protects them is part of the problem.

Caitlin Burchill explains.

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The Orrington Fire Chief wants to protect his crew at all costs.

“Our men are put into danger at every call, whether you’re directing traffic on the road or on site of a structure fire and the gear is their insurance blanket,” said Chief Mike Spencer.

He’s used grant money to buy an extractor and dryer for the gear they use.

Dr. Susan Shaw is impressed.

“I want to commend Chief Mike Spencer for what he’s doing here. It’s exemplary,” said the Dr. Shaw, the Founder and President of Marine Environmental Research Institute in Blue Hill.

She’s been studying the health impacts of chemical exposure for thirty years.

“It’s been said that firefighters are modern day chimney sweeps because they’re covered in carcinogens that soot after a fire…Here in Orrington, they’re trying very hard to do the right thing, but what they don’t have is that back up set of turn out gear that will allow us to decontaminate the gear that’s dirty and still have a set of gear to respond to the call. That’s what we need in Maine,” she said.

While Dr. Shaw has already done a study on firefighters in San Francisco, she plans to do a much larger one in Maine.

She wants to test and analyze the blood of at least 50 firefighters every 5 years to look at the prevalence of cancer and health risks in firefighters and what chemicals are causing it.

“It’s very rampant. It’s very high risk for us, for firefighters in the state of Maine, and the rest of the country. And what Dr. Shaw has done with the San Francisco study has been incredible,” said John York with the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine.

The study will last 20 years.

“This is a really big opportunity in the state of Maine for all firefighters, whether you’re volunteer, call, or paid professionals,” continued York.

“It’s definitely a good thing. Without it, we just stay status quo…and it’s proven that there’s a risk,” said Chief Spencer.

“Firefighters are saving the rest of us. We want firefighters to be doing their job safe,” said Dr. Shaw.


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