(WTNH) — Fires, car accidents, and medical calls keep firefighters busy around the clock, and while they’re going in with protective clothing and gear, what’s killing them is often a danger they can’t see – cancer.
It’s now a leading cause of death among firefighters.
You wouldn’t know Doug Clarke is battling cancer. He was just promoted at Rocky Hill Fire Department. He’s off for the summer, but teaches math at Wilcox High School in Meriden.
He’s also undergoing his fourth cancer treatment.
Doug joined the Rocky Hill Fire Department 11 years ago as a volunteer. Years later, his colleagues asked him to help raise money for the American Lung Association, so he joined a team and began climbing the highest buildings in Hartford.
In 2016, they won.
“As the fastest firefighter team and about 10 weeks later, I was in treatment for lung cancer,” Doug says.
It started as coughing and breathing troubles. Weeks later a shocking diagnosis: small cell lung cancer.
“That was the beginning of my next journey.”
Doug’s never smoked. He says his cancer could be from radon or gas levels in his home, so he encourages everyone to get levels checked every 3 years. But he’s also part of a growing national issue: firefighters and cancer
The International Association of Firefighters says cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters. A 40-year-old firefighter at UConn died earlier this year from breast cancer. Departments across Connecticut are taking extra precautions.
“Making sure our gear is clean, making sure we shower after structure fires, making sure we go for our annual checkups,” Shelly Carter, Capt. Hartford Fire Department .
The state legislature created a firefighter relief fund in 2016, but that bill just went into effect this month. The budget allocates $100,000 per quarter, but firefighters must be on the job for five years after 2017, meaning they wouldn’t be eligible for compensation until three years from now.
Meanwhile, Doug is already signed up for next year’s Walk For Air Climb. He’s also committed to spreading awareness about what he calls the new face of lung cancer.
“As long as they can keep coming up with options for me, I’m going to keep moving forward and being very grateful for it.”
Last year, the federal government established a national firefighter cancer registry, but the CDC’s data collection is only just beginning.
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