Leadership

S.C. Firefighter Group Launches Database to Track Cancer Cases

Despite a link between cancer and the often-challenging work of being a firefighter, South Carolina had nothing in the way of data to show the potential health risks firefighters face. But an association in the state is looking to build a database of its own, thanks in part to a local news report.

It’s clear to many that firefighters face some risk of cancer later in life, but at least in one state, that risk has never been properly analyzed.

Now, spurred in part by an investigative report by a local television station, the South Carolina State Firefighters’ Association (SCSFA) is working to build out a database that could help quantify the issue in the years to come.

The group has launched a Firefighter Cancer Database, based on a simple 11-question survey meant to help quantify the scope of the problem.

“If you have any type of cancer, or are a survivor, and are a volunteer or paid firefighter in South Carolina, we need your help,” the survey’s website states.

According to WLTX, the Columbia station that recently highlighted the data-reporting issue in an investigative report, the voluntary-but-anonymous solution came about after most fire departments chose not to respond to inquiries by the station, with one that declined citing privacy concerns. (Another, it should be noted, declined to offer up data because it believed there was no connection between firefighting and cancer.)

“I could tolerate that I got cancer, but when it came from my passion for firefighting, it was like somebody kicked me,” Bucky Mock, a 72-year-old firefighter and multiple myeloma survivor, said to the network.

After the report, Mock (who recently stopped maintenance chemotherapy treatment) told the news station that he was inspired to work with the SCSFA to find a solution to the documentation issue.

“It was right after the airing of ‘Cancer: Killing our Heroes,’ and when you said you contacted 93 stations and only 20 responded, and some said they absolutely could not give you any information,” Mock explained to the station. “We then decided the best way to get the information would be to go directly to the firefighter.”

In comments to the station, SCSFA Deputy Director Jason Pope noted the importance of collecting and obtaining quality data—something that has been an issue, as voluntary firefighters don’t list the role as part of their occupations.

“The lack of good data within our profession has been a stumbling block for getting presumptive health coverage, so we have created this survey to build our own database,” Pope told the news network. “One issue we discovered pertains to volunteer firefighters. If a volunteer firefighter is diagnosed with cancer, he often, as you would expect, lists his full-time job as his occupation when beginning treatment. We want them to also list that they are a firefighter so the data can be tracked.”

The approach being taken by the association could provide ammunition for the association to make the case that firefighters in South Carolina should receive workman’s compensation or other benefits—something that firefighters in most states receive, according to WCIV.

Mock hopes that the database can change the current situation.

“If we can get a presumptive act, presumptive care means that people that have firefighting related cancer, they’re covered by workman’s comp,” Mock told WTLX this week.

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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