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Cancer Prevention for Fire Fighters: A Collaboration with the Boston Fire Department

September 1, 2020 – August 31, 2022

The Center is working with the Boston Fire Department to apply a Total Worker Health® approach to examine physical, psychosocial, and organizational factors in the firefighters’ work environment that may influence contamination control practices at the scene of fires and at the fire station. The goal of this work is to identify modifiable upstream factors, in order to target them in future interventions to improve the effectiveness of existing policies on preventing cancer.

Specifically, the research aims to identify priority best practices for exposure reduction based on existing standard operating procedures and available guidelines, as well as determine to what extent factors in the firefighters’ environment may serve as barriers or facilitators in reducing harmful exposures. Our current research is funded in part by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Pan Mass Challenge Team Boston Fire and the Last Call Foundation, and provides support for a post-doctoral fellowship focusing on cancer prevention among fire fighters. 

Center researchers previously partnered with the Boston Fire Department and the Boston Firefighters Local 718 to examine factors in fire stations that may impact firefighter cancer risk. This work took place in 2015-2018 and was funded by grants from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As a first step, the Center’s team completed a pilot study on fire station air quality. Results showed that on average, contaminant levels were higher in truck bays than outside the stations or in station kitchens. The study also found that air quality levels in truck bays varied considerably throughout the day. Building age, station layout, and ventilation all appeared to impact contaminant levels. Findings were published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and Firehouse Magazine. In addition, the Boston Globe, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and the Harvard Gazette all featured stories on this collaborative research initiative.