During a 500-mile California coastline ride, members of a firefighter-based bicycling club stopped in at a Camarillo fire station to raise awareness that cancer affects firefighters at a higher rate than the general population.
According to a study published this year by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, firefighters have a higher risk of developing digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers. The cancer rate is at least 10 percent higher among U.S. firefighters than in the population at large, according to Cindy Ell, founder of International Firefighter Cancer Foundation, which participated in the ride.
“Firefighters are deemed healthy before being cleared for duty by a physician,” Ell said, adding, “The mean age firefighters are being diagnosed with cancer is 45 to 50 years.”
Although little is known about the numbers in Ventura County, a higher cancer rate among firefighters is a reality, according to Steve Winter, Battalion 5 chief for the Ventura County Fire Department.
“I could ask firefighters I know, ‘How many people do you know who were killed in the line of fire?’ It’ll be zero. Safety is a high priority in our department,” Winter said. “But if I were to ask, ‘How many people do you know who died of cancer?’ the names start rapping off.”
Winter participated in the Firefighters for Firefighters bike ride.
During Friday’s visit to Fire Station 50 in Camarillo, local fire personnel received a presentation with preventive recommendations such as starting health checkups 10 years earlier than planned and following ways to improve occupational exposure, such as keeping their masks on after a fire is out to avoid breathing residual gases
“Cancer is the white elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about,” Winter said
He added, “Hopefully, this will bring it out into the room as something that people starting talking about.”
Fire Velo, a national firefighters’ cycling club, has hosted the awareness ride along the West Coast for seven years. During this year’s six-day event, 47 active and retired firefighters, joined by some of their loves ones, took part in the ride, which started in Sausalito. The club and multiple foundations stopped at various fire stations along the way to give presentations. The ride ended Saturday at the Santa Monica Pier.
“Overall, the ride creates a wellness program for the firefighters,” said Jim Berklite, founder and a retired Los Angeles County firefighter paramedic.
Club organizers expected to raise an estimated $30,000, after expenses.