Study shows firefighters carry higher risk for cancer, face hidden health dangers while working

Fire department are working on awareness

ROYAL PALM BEACH, Fla. -- - Their job includes saving lives, but that heroic work of local firefighters is threatening to shorten their own lives.

A new report released by the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health shows that firefighters carry a much higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer compared to the general population.

The study, which was endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control, states firefighters are two time greater than the U.S. population for certain cancers like mesothelioma.

Firefighters like Ken Tamboe with Palm Beach County are all too familiar with the added risk. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“How? Why? How could this have happened. I live a healthy life, how could this have happened?” said Tamboe.

Years of running into burning buildings, saving lives and pulling people to safety all came down to the biggest fight of his life. Tamboe said he was increasing his risk for cancer without even realizing it.

“Well you weren’t worried. You were going into a fire. You weren’t thinking about it. You certainly weren’t thinking about getting sick after the fire,” said Tamboe.

What Tamboe and thousands of other firefighters never realized was that the smoke, burnt items inside building and even their dirty clothes were all increasing their risk for all types of cancer.

Hidden among the dirt and ashes are harmful carcinogens they constantly ingest into their lungs.

“One of the things that we are actually up against is tradition and the thought process that we’re tough, we want to look dirty, it’s not a big deal,” said District Chief Samuel Eaton with Palm Beach County Fire and Rescue.

Eaton said the “tough guy” mentality is shifting through new protocols. He said some of the small changes the department has implemented have gone a long way. He urges firefighters to leaving their masks on well after the fire is out, clean their dirty clothes sooner and tells truck operators to open bay doors to allow harmful exhaust to air out.

Through his battle, Tamboe is trying to use his brush with prostate cancer to teach others. He want to make his fellow firefighters aware of all the things he did for so long that put his life at risk and hopes maybe it will save their life.

“There are inherent risks in this profession, we accept that. But there are things we can do better and can be smart about,” said Tamboe.

Since so many families are not aware of the increased risk of cancer among firefighters, Palm Beach County Fire is holding several awareness events.

On Saturday May 10, PBC Fire is holding a “War on Cancer Street Party” at the Wellington World of Beers from 3:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.