Firefighters fight for cancer research

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HARRISON COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - Hundreds of firefighters are in Washington, D.C. this week to lobby lawmakers about several topics, including potential legislation to examine the spike in cancer-related deaths among firefighters.

The International Association of Fire Fighters' annual legislative conference ended Wednesday, but firefighters back home say the battle of their lives is just beginning.

"Cancer is becoming more and more relevant in the fire service," said Mark Walsh, a firefighter in Clarksburg and president of the IAFF Local 89. "It's actually taken over cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths among firefighters of the IAFF."

A 2015 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that firefighters face a greater risk of developing certain types of cancer than the general population.

In the Clarksburg Fire Department's central station, a sign plastered with the words "Keep This Station Cancer Free" reminds crews that the dangers they face while battling fires can follow them home.

"Everything these days seems to be oil-based or synthetic, instead of the natural components that furniture and stuff were made out of years ago," said Walsh. "So it's more of a danger for us going in. Things burn hotter and quicker than they used to."

When these materials burn, they produce carcinogens, which make the air toxic.

According to the IAFF, cancer has been the cause of 61 percent of career firefighters' deaths between 2002-2016.

Union members are pushing for the Firefighters Cancer Registry Act, which would require the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect data regarding cancer-related deaths among firefighters.

The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill last year.

Meanwhile, Walsh and union members across the Mountain State are pushing lawmakers in Charleston to shore up protections for firefighters diagnosed with cancer.

You can learn more about their efforts in the extended conversation above.