Making it To and Through Retirement

Firefighter Safety: Making it to and through Retirement

David LeBlanc


Every day I log onto the internet and read the latest thoughts about how to better do our jobs. I read about tactics, trainings ideas and things gone horribly wrong that caused one of own to pay the ultimate price. Recently I had a wake-up call. My effort spent learning has overlooked one important area. I am afraid that many of you have over looked this too. This oversight came to light when I found out that my first Captain, 10 plus years into a line of duty retirement, has prostate cancer.

He is the second firefighter in my department to be diagnosed within the last year, the other being an active duty Captain with a grade 4 glioblastoma. There is also another firefighter from a nearby Department being treated for bladder cancer.

So why all this cancer all of the sudden? Is it a fluke? A product of us all getting older? Or maybe it has something to do with what we do every day, what we are exposed to, what we breathe in and touch. Both of the brothers from my Department started their careers before diesel exhaust collection systems. They worked in our old headquarters, where diesel soot was commonly found in the second floor dayroom. They worked in a time when “night hitches” were only worn at night, and “taking a feed” was an ok thing to do. But they also started their careers at a time when there were less plastics and manmade materials burning.

Things are different today, yet sometimes old habits die hard. Laziness sometimes prevents us from hooking up the diesel exhaust system. Pride prevents us from cleaning our gear. Of course there are also places where the importance of these two simple things has not met the budgetary importance scale.

The other sad fact is that we all suffer from the “other guy” disease. Where no matter what happens it will happen to the other guy. Yet many cancers can be easily screened for, and the most we will suffer for it is some discomfort and embarrassment while the doc violates a place that was designed as an exit.

So in the day of rapid intervention, Vent Enter Search, NIMS, aggressive tactics and 2-in 2-out, I ask you all this; Take a little time to consider that it isn’t only important to come home from your next run, but to be able to spend some time with your family after you hang up the leather for good.

Follow this link to some guidelines for Cancer Screening:

American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer

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  • Chief Reason says:

    Excellent food for thought.
    I would have to say that there may be a higher than “normal” cancer occurrence at your FD and I don’t think it’s the water.
    I think that your blog lends itself to the importance of two issues: 1) yearly physicals and lung/prostate/colon cancer checks for the men and lung/mammos/Paps for the women; and 2) getting a national presumptive illness bill passed so that our firefighters will at least be given the care that they need and deserve. No one should go broke from getting sick.

  • Art Zern says:


    Thanks ofr highlighting an important topic. We lost an active 37 year member last month. It was diagnosed an occupational cancer and therefore, a line of duty death. It was so very painful to see Tom deteriorate so quickly. I had spoken to him on the phone as I did often and he was spirited and hopeful, a week later, he was in the hospital. Our members picked him up on a Friday to bring him home. They shared a few laughs, no one knew the end would come so quickly. I visited Tom at home on Tuesday and I was shocked, I didn't think he would make it through the week. At roll-call the next day, I told the members at my station that if they were thinking of going to visit Tom, they better do it now. Tom died on Friday.

    Tom was another in the long line of firefighters who suffer and die from cancer. This disease is relentless and takes a great toll on the members, their families, friends and the Brothers and Sisters who have worked and shared a lifetime with them.

    I can't help but wonder what it will take???? When will we learn??? Who will have the guts to stand-up?? In many cases, it is preventable…. We know better, when will we do better??

  • Chris Minick says:

    Hi Dave, well thought out and written article. We lost the captain at one of our volly houses and a career service Baltimore County firefighter to pancreatic cancer a little over a year ago. Not sure if it was determined to be an occupational occurrence or not, although the department was pursuing that route.

    Thanks for the reminder to take care of ourselves.

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