Firefighter Cancer Awareness

Firefighters in turnout gear look at a building

Firefighter occupational cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty death in the fire service.

While on duty, firefighters are exposed to dangerous chemicals and carcinogens through smoke and soot. They come into contact with these toxins by breathing them in, and also by absorbing them through skin contact.

All in all, firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population.

Historically, there was little data available about firefighter cancer risk. A lack of awareness meant that proper protections were not in place for most firefighters. Attitudes are currently changing as more evidence becomes available about the links between firefighting and cancer risk, but there is always more work to be done, and awareness is the first step to making change happen.


Wake County is taking action to reduce our firefighters’ risk of exposure to cancer-causing toxins. Here are just a few things that we’re doing differently:

  • The purchase of a second set of turnout gear for firefighters.
  • Implementation of the "Clean Cab" protocol: no dirty equipment or clothing inside the cab of the truck.
  • Requiring firefighters to “Shower Within An Hour” after fighting a fire.
  • Implementation of decontamination kits on fire engines, including adding heaters and shower heads to fire engines so firefighters can rinse off after fighting fire.
  • Implementation of a hood replacement program so firefighters never have to wear a dirty hood.
  • Investments in state-of-the-art air return systems in fire stations to remove toxins from the air.
  • Strategic engineering of new fire stations providing a dedicated dirty room for processing dirty equipment while ensuring the rest of the fire station stays clean from contaminants.
  • Taking active steps to raise awareness about the risk of cancer in the firefighting profession.

Learn More and Spread the Word

Awareness leads to change. If you’d like to help spread the word about firefighter cancer, you can read more about prevention and best practices in the Lavender Ribbon Report from the National Volunteer Fire Council and International Association of Fire Chiefs' Volunteer and Combination Officers Section.

If you'd like to contribute to local advocacy and prevention efforts, get involved with The Phoenix Project.

During January 2024, we launched a video campaign featuring real local firefighters, family members and subject matter experts. You can view the full-length, documentary style video below.