The Cancer Awareness Phase

For many years I have been preaching a more cautious approach to structural firefighting. Interior attacks, I thought, were not lining up with what NFPA initial attack crew guidelines. Some people don’t seem to pay much attention to those recommendations. The attitude is - go in at all costs because that is what the fire service does! Then, UL and NIST started publishing some interesting studies that are backed up with data. This data supports what some of us had been seeing on the modern fire ground for years - the stuff is burning so fast and hot, we often can’t make much of a difference.

This "go in at all costs" attitude is now entering a whole new arena - the “cancer awareness” phase. I should have been looking at this from my Haz-Mat experience, which is what I am starting to do now. Holy crap! I do not like what I am seeing. Maybe it’s the fact that I am battling skin cancer myself, but I sure am re-thinking my re-thinking. I need to start delving in to this deeper. What I learned today was shocking. Some studies from NIOSH / UL show that one of the many chemicals present in typical structure fires is Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon. These can include Naphthalene, Anthracene and Phenanthrene. These chemicals are considered to by highly carcinogenic, mutagenic and even teratogenic. Does anyone remember what these terms means? A Mutagen can cause changes in our own genetic material or DNA. A Teratogen can disturb development of an embryo or fetus. This is some heavy duty stuff … more to follow.

Steve Nash, BC