OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Firefighting is a dangerous profession, with the potential for burns and smoke inhalation. But the number one line of duty cause of death among firefighters is cancer.
One group is working to lower the cancer diagnoses of firefighters and connect those who have been diagnosed with resources.
“When you receive that diagnosis, the last thing you want to do is to feel alone," said Nick Howe, state director of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. "And a lot of people do, a lot of firefighters do. They don’t want to feel that they’re not capable of doing the job. They fear they’ll lose their job, therefore they fight in silence.”
At age 31, Howe was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after working as a firefighter for over a decade. He was inhaling dangerous chemicals and absorbing toxins through his skin.
He says his two and a half year battle was made easier by his crew mates at Eppley Fire and Rescue.
“Unconditional support from the guys at my fire house, that took the responsibility from me," he said.
After making into remission, Howe knew he wanted to be part of that support network for other firefighters. With the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, he is able to connect with and help those facing a diagnosis.
The support network offers information about cancer among firefighters and connection with others who are facing or have faced a diagnosis. They also offer boxes that help organize the new flood of medical paperwork in a place where it is not a constant reminder.
Howe also wants to help raise awareness about the issue of firefighter cancer. This January is the first time the International Association of Firefighters has recognized Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month.
Firefighters are 9% more likely than the general population to receive a cancer diagnosis and 14% more likely to die from some form of cancer.
“We begin raising awareness for firefighters that don’t have a cancer diagnosis and hopefully prevent and bring that 9% and 14% number down," Howe said. "And then we can also take that opportunity to advocate for firefighters that do have a diagnosis."
You can find resources and ways to help at the Firefighter Cancer Support Network's website.