City targeting cancer risks for firefighters

Firefighters used ladders while fighting the blaze on Myrick Street in Allston in August.
Firefighters used ladders while fighting the blaze on Myrick Street in Allston in August.Boston Fire Department

A Boston firefighter is diagnosed with cancer every three weeks, the city’s fire commissioner, Joseph E. Finn, said in a keynote address at a conference in Nashville.

Speaking at the annual Firehouse Expo on Thursday, Finn said the Fire Department is working hard to reduce cancer risks among firefighters, according to Firehouse.com, a news site for firefighters and rescue professionals.

Finn said 190 Boston firefighters have died from occupational cancer since 1990. He said decisive action is needed “if we are going to reverse the devastating trend.”

In 2014, the department lost four firefighters to cancer, Finn said. Two other firefighters were killed in the line of duty.


Finn, who has been commissioner since 2014, said the department is working to outfit every station with the equipment to clean and dry gear. The equipment is already available at two-thirds of the city’s stations, he said. Unwashed equipment can carry carcinogens.

“There is no excuse for any firefighter to start the shift without clean gear,” Finn said.

Finn has created a health, safety, and wellness division, which has made two videos to raise awareness of the high cancer rates. “It’s killing our members, simple as that,” Finn says in a 2015 video. “The one thing that is going to kill firefighters more quickly than a building collapse, more quickly than getting trapped — it’s cancer.”

The video, produced with a $30,000 training grant, concluded with a roster of firefighters who have died from cancer.

“The video has had a dramatic impact not only in the Boston Fire Department, but across the fire service,” Finn said in his speech.

Finn said it is unfortunate that firefighters who die from cancer do not receive the same recognition as those who die on the job. “That is truly sad, because their careers and the suffering they endured are no less heroic than a line-of-duty death,” he said. “We need to change that and get them the recognition they deserve.”


Olivia Quintana can be reached at olivia.quintana@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @oliviasquintana.