PBC firefighter cancer study receives additional funding, expanding to all departments in the county

Posted at 7:06 PM, Jun 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-27 19:06:36-04

One year ago, we showed you how the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center teamed up with firefighters in Palm Beach County.

Their goal - to figure out why cancer is killing our firefighters at such high rates.

Monday, it was announced that the state is pumping an additional $1.5 million into this important project.

The goal of this project is twofold - to create awareness and provide prevention for some of our bravest and boldest.

Firefighters like retired Captain Butch Smith know the impact first hand.

8 years ago, Captain Smith was hit with a Multiple Myeloma Cancer diagnosis, but his case was different than the usual cases of the disease.

“It’s a non curable cancer, and it's usually diagnosed at age 70, and here I am with it at 45,” he says.

Like so many other fire fighters, he was hit with the disease at a young age.

“Basically, I live on chemo 21 days a month,” Captain Smith says.

Researchers from the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer spent the past year trying to figure out why cases like his continue to grow.

We were there on day one of the project, as researchers started gathering data - looking at gear, exposure to carcinogens, and firefighter cleaning habits.

“More than 400 blood samples have been collected right here at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue,” says Alberto Caban Martinez with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

All that research they say has led to changes - even simple things, like face wipes and spray.

Monday’s announcement means this cancer project will expand today to include all fire departments in Palm Beach County - bringing more data, and more help for firefighters.

“One of the really neat projects we'll be able to expand in year 2 is being able to study fire fighter retirees,” Martinez says.

The goal is to learn from cases like Butch.

“Make it better for our fighters today, tomorrow and generations to come,” he says.

Even after undergoing chemotherapy Monday, he was at the announcement.

“I stand before you a very proud man,” he says.

Butch says he’s determined to fight on.

“It will eventually get me, but not today.”