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The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative hosted its Fifth International Firefighter Cancer Symposium on February 23-24 in Miami, welcoming more than 750 scientists, firefighters, government and agency officials, and industry experts from around the world with the common goal of making work-related to erase cancer in the fire service.
Participants at the 2023 International Firefighter Cancer Symposium
“The International Firefighter Cancer Symposium provides a needed platform for scientists, first responders and cancer advocates for a two-way exchange of ideas that can drive new research priorities and policy changes. We are particularly excited to have several National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in attendance this year and the opportunity to brainstorm how we can work together to advance new directions and innovation,” said Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., MPH , Associate Director of Population Science and Cancer Disparities and the John K. and Judy H. Schulte Senior Endowed Chair in Cancer Research at Sylvester.
Occupationally acquired cancer is the leading cause of death in firefighters, according to Danny Whu, MD, MPH, chief medical officer of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), which represents more than 334,000 firefighters and paramedics in the United States and Canada.
Aimee Green, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, ABAAHP Presents FCI Cancer Prevention Curriculum during Fire Service workshops
“Year over year, approximately 75% of the firefighters honored at our annual Memorial to Fallen Firefighters have died from cancer,” said Dr. Whu, who gave the opening speech at the meeting, presenting the needed improvements in firefighting equipment. “Through its dedicated and unbiased research, the Firefighter Cancer Initiative plays an essential role in advancing the health, safety and well-being of firefighters. The IAFF is blessed to have the Firefighter Cancer Initiative as a friend of firefighters and honored to participate in the planning, development and delivery of its 2023 International Firefighter Cancer Symposium.”
According to symposium speaker Lori Moore-Merrell, PH, MPH, US Fire Administrator at the US Fire Administration (USFA), the federal government at the highest level is focusing on firefighter cancer for the first time. The USFA is part of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Partners Against Cancer Lori Moore-Merrell, Ph.D., MPH, US Fire Administrator at the US Fire Administration
according to dr Moore-Merrell, the U.S. Government on reducing the risk of cancer through firefighting is focusing on efforts by the President, Secretary of Homeland Security and the USFA to bring together federal partners and national fire service organizations to fight cancer with #OneVoice. She said it was “absolutely imperative” given the government’s focus that she attend the symposium.
“The International Firefighter Cancer Symposium brings together leading firefighter researchers, data scientists and occupational health practitioners to collectively focus on the ongoing scourge of cancer among firefighters. The symposium is also an opportunity for these professionals to work with firefighters who are cancer survivors and with those who are passionate about changing the current course of cases. Therefore, it is imperative that the USFA be present to hear the latest scientific evidence and to discuss the cancer strategy component of the National Fire Service Strategy,” said Dr. Moore-Merrell.
IARC Panel Discussion with Drs. Marta Oliviera, Luana Main, Lauren Teras and Paul Demers moderated by Dr. Alberto Caban Martinez
The headline of the 2023 symposium was the unveiling of the results of the 400+ page volume 132 monograph of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, a comprehensive document compiled by 25 scientists from eight countries. The monograph assesses cancer in firefighters on a global scale.
“The abstract was published in The Lancet Oncology in June 2022. We are officially announcing the summary results of the complete monograph that summarizes several years of firefighter cancer research,” said Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, DO Ph.D., MPH, CPH, associate director of Sylvester’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative and associate professor of public health sciences at the Miller School, who was one of 25 scholars selected to author the monograph. “The big messages are that there is an overabundance of evidence that occupational exposure as a firefighter is carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), specifically bladder cancer and mesothelioma. Other cancers, including colon, prostate, testicle, melanoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which have not been as visibly on the radar in the past, have been highlighted in this monograph. There is limited but increasing evidence that these other cancers are also work-related.”
JoAnn Rice, Director of Implementation for Positive Change, MPA, CFO of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, speaks to IFCS attendees about the importance of cancer prevention and awareness in the fire service
The speakers not only covered the latest research and technology, but also labor issues and the implementation of positive change in local fire departments. In some cases, field workers and fire chiefs like Dr. Whu to the podium to point out what needs to be changed to make firefighting safer.
“For firefighters, bunker equipment is as important as water to safely extinguish fires. However, we were not told that our bunker equipment contained toxic and carcinogenic chemicals like PFAS,” said Dr. whoo. “PFAS manufacturers have known about the harmful effects of this class of synthetic permanent chemicals for decades, but they have promoted them as safe and continue to do so to this day. …the IAFF, under the leadership of President General Edward Kelly, is committed to eradicating deadly PFAS from our bunker equipment.”
According to Christopher Bator, director of safety, health and wellness at the Coral Springs-Parkland Florida Fire Department and president of the Florida Firefighters Safety and Health Collaborative, the Firefighter Cancer Initiative and the annual symposium are impacting firefighters near and far.
Bringing science to the streets From left: Dr. Erin Kobetz, Natasha Schaefer Solle and Alberto Caban-Martinez (right) present Julius Halas, MS, Director of the Division of State Fire Marshal for the State of Florida, with the recognition award for his FCI contributions.
“We are so fortunate and grateful to have such a great institution, partnership and resource in our own backyard not only to better understand the issue, but to work together to bring the science to the streets, to increase exposure and To reduce risks for our firefighters,” Bator said. “Should a firefighter contract this devastating disease, we also have a partner at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Firefighter Cancer Initiative to support our firefighting family in the fight against this disease.”
The symposium represents a unique opportunity to protect those who protect us, said Natasha Schaefer Solle, Ph.D., RN, Associate Director of the Sylvester Firefighter Cancer Initiative and Sylvester Research Assistant Professor.
“When we started the symposium in 2019, it was the National Firefighter Cancer Symposium. In 2023, we renamed the meeting the International Firefighter Cancer Symposium due to increased interest in firefighting and cancer around the world,” said Dr. should. “What emerges from this rich scientific symposium is often a better understanding and awareness of practical, real-world solutions to cancer control and prevention for firefighters, tools that can be immediately brought back to the fire station and union to help them control the exposure to carcinogens, and creating new investigative capabilities that can solve real-world firefighting queries.”
according to dr Caban-Martinez recognizes Sylvester as a leader in the field of professional cancer research.
“As an NCI-designated cancer center, and among all cancer centers in the world, Sylvester is the only one with a specific and dedicated focus on cancer research in firefighters,” he said.