Auburn Firefighters Take Preventative Measures to Reduce Cancer Risk

AUBURN -- The death toll among firefighters who worked in the wreckage of the 9/11 attacks continues to rise on the 17th anniversary of the disaster.

At least 183 firefighters have now died due to cancers.

Firefighters expect to come face to face with danger, it’s the nature of the job. But now they are also worried about a faceless danger -- contaminants in the air and on their clothing and skin after the flames are out.

"Things have changed dramatically since the days I started," said Auburn Fire Chief Dave Spencer.

Thirty years ago firefighters did not worry about lightweight construction or building materials that emit toxic fumes.

"Many of our firefighters are showing up with signs of cancer and diagnosed with different types of diseases," Spencer told FOX40.

Ongoing studies show that firefighters are 9 percent more likely to contract cancer and 14 percent more likely to die from the disease.

Multiple studies of 9/11 firefighters who worked in the toxic dust and smoke from the twin towers collapse indicate the dangers of exposure.

Just a few months ago firefighters paid tribute to Auburn firefighter Trent Lindholdt. The 47-year-old veteran engineer died after a courageous fight with cancer that he contracted after years on the job,

It didn’t take a policy directive to have the fire department employ a series of often simple measures to prevent exposure to toxic fumes and contaminants.

Turnout gear is immediately isolated into plastic bags. Special wipes are used to wipe down exposed skin. Protective hoods are changed out after the fire is out.

Turnout clothing is changed out after each fire. They are put into an extractor, a kind of industrial washing machine, and cleaned thoroughly before the next fire call.

A rated dusk mask is used when mopping up a fire or investigating the scene, as well as a monitor that can detect toxins in the air.

The death of a beloved colleague drives the firefighters to spend the time and make the effort to make sure Lindholt’s death has a greater meaning.

"We don’t want anyone to have to go through what he did and that’s kind of what our focus is," said Auburn Fire Capt. Damon Meier.

"We don’t take care of ourselves, we’re not going to be around to help the citizens," D'Ambrogi said.