I’ve taken a few weeks off from writing or blogging for my own peace of mind. I have summer courses starting on Monday, so I wanted to enjoy a bit of my summer. It does put me behind a little in where I’d like to be with Molly’s Song, but I’m close enough. What’s on tap for today isn’t writing related or history related, but its an important one.
This morning I read a post shared on Facebook. It was from the wife of a firefighter who’d recently lost her husband, not in a fire or a roof collapse, but from the culmination of a thousand fires. He was lost to our most dangerous enemy in the fire service; cancer. It stalks firefighters, both active and retired, and it can kill with surprising rapidity.
When I was a young man, new on the job some two decades ago, I thought it looked salty as hell to have a scorched helmet and gear. We rarely cleaned any of our gear. When arriving at a house fire, we’d take the time to mask up right at the door, taking in some carcinogens in the process. There was no ventilation system for the exhaust on our trucks back at the station. Later, as an arson investigator, I never once, not a single time, wore a respirator while digging through fire scenes. It’s little wonder that today I suffer from breathing difficulties and I do know from my twice a year chest x-rays that I have scarring on my lungs.
Back in the day, we didn’t know better. No one gave much thought to cancer, yet it seemed like every retired firefighter I knew died of either cancer or a heart attack (our other killer). Today, there is a much greater awareness of the dangers of job related cancer and also steps that can be taken to lessen (but not remove) the risk. The fire service as an organization can be, at times, resistant to change. But this isn’t something to play around with. There’s nothing “cool” about salty gear if that gear increases the odds that you might die of cancer in your 30s or 40s. Take the proper measures to ensure that you’ll be around to enjoy your whole career and to be with your family when they need you.
I’m a lot more aware now myself, but I’d be lying if I said I never worry about it, late at night when I’m lying in bed staring at the ceiling. But I’m retired. And that’s why I worry that maybe, for me, it might be too late. That’s a worry you don’t want.