AFD taking measures to protect crews from job-related cancer

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They put their lives on the line battling fires, but the flames aren’t the only thing putting the health of firefighters in jeopardy.

Fire officials said crews face greater risks for cancer because of chemicals they get on their gear during fires, and there is a push for better safety 

Firefighters across New Mexico started this year by honoring the life of one of their own. 

“Rohwer had a contagious smile and a positive attitude every time you were around him, and I’ll miss that,” Andrew Ebner said back in January.

Lieutenant Shadd Rohwer, a 19-year veteran of the Farmington Fire Department, died in January from job related cancer.

Albuquerque fire officials said it’s becoming more common among fire crews. 

“There definitely is a national trend that has seen a spike in cancers along with cancer related death,” said Albuquerque Fire Department spokesperson Tom Ruiz. 

In recent years, eight Albuquerque firefighters have been diagnosed with some sort of job related cancer, a shocking number that’s causing many to break old habits.

“It was a badge of honor to wear dirty gear. It almost showed that you were a die hard firefighter and that was causing a lot of the cancers we’re experiencing,” said New Mexico Professional Firefighters Association President Diego Arencon.

Now, the department has developed a bunker cleaning program and a hood exchange. 

“By exchanging these flash hoods we can directly decrease the amount of the carcinogens that are in contact with our skin,” Arencon said. 

Many departments have added extra doors to their stations to keep contaminants out of their living space.

“It creates another barrier to keep those potential harmful diesel exhaust fumes from going inside the fire stations,” Ruiz said. 

Fire officials believe keeping crews protected is just another way for them to honor those they’ve lost. 

“Shadd, before he passed, he was a stickler about safety equipment and personal protective equipment and that’s something to really carry on his legacy,” Arencon said.

AFD officials said they also have an air extraction system in their truck bays to help filter out hazardous fumes. 

AFD union officials said they are working with smaller departments across the state to start hood exchange programs.

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