De Pere firefighters work to curb cancer risks

Local News

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – De Pere firefighters gathered Wednesday afternoon to learn how to protect themselves from one of the profession’s biggest risks: cancer.

“Nearly two out of three firefighters that die in the line of duty die from contracting cancer,” said Eric Johnson, Assistant Chief of Safety and Training at De Pere Fire Rescue.

The department is taking time all week to address the issue with its firefighters, as a grim anniversary approaches.

“Adam Van Rite, who was a firefighter here in De Pere, at the age of 32-years-old died from getting cancer while here at work,” Johnson said, adding that 2019 marks ten years since the death.

“It gives us a stark reminder just how hazardous our job really is,” Johnson continued. “We are in the smoke, in the soot. All of that smoke and soot is very, very toxic. It has lots of cancer-causing components.”

Those components, according to Johnson, come from every day items that become deadly in a fire.

“All of our furnitures today are made out of plastics, synthetics, our carpet, our furniture, our upholstery, our sheets, all have hydrocarbons in it that produce just a very nasty smoke,” he said.

The carcinogens in that “nasty smoke” mean that firefighters must clean-up properly and quickly after a fire.

“It may take us an hour to put out a fire, takes us three hours to clean up from that and to decontaminate ourselves and our equipement,” Johnson said.

Wednesday’s class was meant as a refresher and a reminder to De Pere’s firefighters to stay safe after a fire has been put out.

“They understand those risks, they’re willing to take those risks,” Johnson said, “but if we can minimize those risks, then we’re all much better ahead. I really don’t want to go to another firefighter funeral. I’ve been to too many in my career.”

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