Posted: September 20th, 2022

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Hidden Hazards of Firefighting

Alexis S. Jones

PUBH 5020- Environmental Justice Paper

Tennessee State University

Firefighting is the most unappreciated, overlooked, and fantasized profession. Below will discuss the everyday hazards that firemen go through and will take a dive into the effects and internal aftermath of being a firefighter. On the outside spectrum, most people believe that firefighters are just people who put out fires. However, in the grand scheme firefighters are trained for a multitude of situations that ultimately take a toll on their body in an effort to save a life.
Hidden Hazards of Firefighting
When researching a career as a firefighter, there are many known or expected hazards but what about the hidden ones? Well, the aim of this paper will uncover many unknown hazards of firefighting and its’ causes. “Running into burning buildings is not the biggest killer of America’s firefighters. It’s the cancer they get from doing their jobs.” (Costello, 2017).


Most people think that a firefighter is just someone who fights fires, but they do a lot more than just that. Firefighters work as paramedics, rescue victims from buildings, emergency evacuation, car accidents and more.

Duties and Responsibilities

Firefighters are also rescue responders, when you think of rescue you think of fire rescue, however they are all around helpers. They provide emergency evacuation for wildfires, bomb threats, animal or person stuck, and many medical crises such as car accidents. Every firefighter is trained in basic life support and their paramedics are the first ones to greet you at the scene of an accident. They come equipped with the tools needed to save victims no matter if it is getting into crushed vehicles with their tools or providing the victims with medical care. Without firemen a lot of task that you pay no mind too are usually handled by a firefighting team no matter how tedious it is.


There are many hazards that come with this career choice but there are things one can do to lessen their risk factors. According to Jahnke, obesity, alcohol consumption, tobacco usage, and sleep are all factors that can increase or decrease ones’ risk factors. “Obesity can more than double the risk of developing cancers such as multiple myeloma, kidney, liver, and esophageal cancer – all of which are diagnosed at high-risk rates among firefighters.” (Jahnke, 2019).

Personal Protective Equipment

The risks of chemicals in firefighting equipment may seem to pale in comparison to the deadly flames, smoke-filled buildings or forest infernos that firefighters brave on the job.” (Tabuchi, 2021).

Exposure to Toxins

Common Hazards

Firefighters face serious risk whenever they’re active on the job. Mental and physical stress, heat exhaustion, burns, and smoke inhalation are some of the factors that come to mind.

Unknown Hazards

Firefighters’ chances of developing cancer are doubled from the average human as they come in contact with my chemicals while fighting fires. There are many air pollutants’ that firefighters encounter when they enter an active fire. A few important ones to remember are asbestos, carbon monoxide, smog and heavy metals. Before doing research, I had no idea what some of these chemicals were and where they were found. Asbestos is used in insulation within building structures. Carbon monoxide may be a chemical that you have heard before due to it being in found in air tanks and have medical use. One of the heavy metals that they encounter is lead. Lead can be found in

Testicular Cancer

Lung Cancer

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a form of cancer that attacks a male’s prostate. After reviewing several studies on firefighters and prostate cancer, I found a study that was done by the Foundation of Australia in 2014 that had intriguing findings. “For prostate cancer, there was a 1.36-fold increase in risk of diagnosis. This means that every 100 non-firefighters diagnosed, there were 136 firefighters diagnosed with prostate cancer over the same age groups.” (Winnall, 2020).

Skin Cancer

What Should Change?

In efforts to change the rates and outcome of firefighters being exposed to these hazards I believe that there are many things that can be done. I would start at the proper education of each and every firefighter by showing them the proper way to protect themselves from these toxic chemicals. ]\


Costello, T. (2017, October 23). Cancer is the biggest killer of America’s firefighters. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from
Jahnke, S., Ph.D. (2019, January 07). Mitigating firefighter cancer risks through lifestyle. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from
Tabuchi, H. (2021, January 26). Firefighters battle an unseen hazard: Their gear could be toxic. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from
Winnall, W., PhD. (2020, March 10). Male firefighters have an increased risk of prostate cancer. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from

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