GOODYEAR, AZ — They are heroes in our community who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. But because of the toxins they're exposed to, cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters.
January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month, which is why the International Association of Firefighters and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network are working together to deliver educational resources to departments across the country to help reduce the risk of occupational cancer.
Gilbert Aguirre, a firefighter with the Goodyear Fire Department, was diagnosed with a form of leukemia in 2015. He says doctors believe it was caused by breathing in carcinogens while fighting fires.
"You start thinking about your family, your kids, your future," Aguirre said. "You end up having to come up with a plan."
A plan that includes a lot of paperwork — because Aguirre's worker's compensation for his costly medication that now keeps him cancer-free was denied. To this day, he is still fighting that in court, but his work at the state capitol prompted new legislation signed into law last year.
"To prevent other people from going through the same thing I've gone through," Aguirre said.
Aguirre also helped bring new changes within the city of Goodyear's fire stations, now equipped to handle cancer prevention protocols. One of the many examples is a hose hooked up to the fire truck, so crews don't breathe in the fumes.
According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, there is no data at this time showing that steps taken have reduced the risk of occupational cancer. However, three years ago IAFF helped pass the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, which will now help track their progress.