Friday, December 13, 2019

HAZMAT BRINGS CANCER PREVENTION IDEAS TO LIGHT

From a NYCRA interview with Darryl Vandermark, Firefighter and (Ret.) HAZMAT Chief

Edited by: First Responders Cancer/Health Resource Group & Awarenessforacure.org editorial team

Historically, 9/11 is the single most referenced incident for every firefighter and first responder in the world. It was a tragedy and a major impact to the Emergency services. As a Fire Instructor, I teach my students about exposure and that every material is potentially toxic. Some things being more lethal than others, depending on how your body reacts to it, it’s all in the amount of the dose. 

In HAZMAT, we have many ways to measure the different types of substances that can identify if someone could or has been grossly contaminated. One of the many ways that we can measure a potential exposure is in (PPM) parts per million. (PPM) Parts per million, is the measure of concentration of a toxin in an environment that can be hazardous or immediately dangerous to life & health (IDLH). Any fire or hazmat personnel can measure this with various meters and/or instruments. Therefore, identifying possible routes of exposure to these hazards such in absorption, inhalation, and/or ingestion. One of the most heart wrenching things teaching firefighters or working with firefighter’s day in and out is traditionally, the fire service has always separated HAZMAT from FIREFIGHTING. But TRUTH be told many Firefighters & First Responders are exposed to hazardous substances and don’t know that it’s happening chronically in their everyday work. 

I often find myself, the "hazmat guy", witnessing recognizable symptoms of gross contamination on the fireground. After 20 minutes my brothers and I come out of a fire exhausted, sweating, red faced, swollen skin, and hearts pounding taking a moment only to get a “new” air bottle and preparing to go back to work again. Albeit, showing signs and symptoms we continue to work until the job is done. unfortunately, by Firefighters & First Responders ignoring the acute signs and symptoms on a daily basis, chronically it manifests itself into major health risks causing many types cancers and respiratory conditions.

9/11- A HAZMAT INCIDENT!
The staggering rate of cancer cases showed undisputed evidence aligning 9/11 as a HAZMAT INCIDENT and not just a building collapse or a building fire. 9/11 exposure reports included prostate cancers, lung cancers, and all breathing issues from airborne particulates including toxins attacking the lungs. Others have throat issues from the toxins burning the throat "barrette’s esophagus: L-image insert". It was a hazardous material incident proven by the presence of environmental companies and hazmat units from the entire tri-state who responded to manage the problem.

For all of these reasons first responders exposed to the highest health risks are often the ones to neglect their own health and safety. Awareness and education programs have recently stepped up to address this issue. Many similarities started to take shape as stated in the beginning of this article due to 9/11. As one major example, most responders from ground zero will never forget the unique inexplicable smell and the feeling like not getting enough air in your lungs. These conclusions began after 9/11, namely that ALL FIRES are HAZMAT INCIDENTS as they all emit hazardous concentrations of lethal toxins. All the coughing and spitting came from the body's mucous membranes working in overdrive. This is the body engaging the volume of toxins and trying to rid them from the body in an acute manor. First responders were not detoxifying from the chronic exposures to these toxins. There is a false sense of protection when firefighters don their “SCBA” respirator to protect from the acute effects of toxins. It only leads them to not realize the other means of their exposure that leads to chronic sickness. “We live to fight another day” until the manifestation of these toxins as various cancers and other health issues arise.

Responders accumulated so many types of chemicals and toxic compounds through every intake port of their body, such as the skin, eyes, hair, and breathing passages. Depending on the individual’s physiology and immune system, these foreign poisons did manage to penetrate and have different levels of short- or long-term damage in the future. It is from this that more and more Firefighters & First Responders are now contracting cancers (including time-released issues) from the chronic exposures to atomized compounds at high temperatures like volatile organic compounds (VOC) which are found at ALL FIRES not just HAZMAT INCIDENTS. 


BRIDGING THE GAP OF HAZMAT & FIREFIGHTING
No matter how many years it takes, they have to understand the hazardous materials in firefighting. I have spent 30 years in the fire service as a Firefighter as well as a Hazardous Materials Specialist and only in the past few years I have seen more BRIDGING the gaps between FIREFIGHTING and HAZMAT. When I started my career, you couldn’t get a classroom to stay awake during a hazardous materials training course. Heck! 30 years ago, the extent of understanding fire was the “fire triangle” students were taught if Heat, Fuel, and Oxygen was present there was “FIRE” that was the extent of the chemistry. And for HAZMAT, “if you could hide the scene behind your thumb” you were good!
With one major tragic incident, the fire service has learned firefighting is all about HAZMAT. Not only how it effects the public but much more about how it affects us. Only in the past 25 years our protective gear has advanced us into firefighting deeper into burning buildings, protecting us from heat far more than the orange rubber gloves and raincoats of the past. Respirators keep evolving, more durable and lighter than the past. Bunker-pants, turn-out coats, gloves, and hoods capable of withstanding temperatures that makes a firefighter able to get to victims deep into buildings and to extinguish fires faster. Although these advances in equipment & protective gear are great in firefighting they do not protect against exposure through absorption and inhalation. We advanced so much we forgot about the HAZMAT!

According to USFA (US Fire Administration) and FEMA, Firefighters face substantial risks of exposure to carcinogens and other toxins. These exposure risks result most often from dermal absorption during a fire or inhalation of off-gassing particles (volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) from contaminated bunker gear during removal- whereby devising an effective health intervention can greatly reduce risks from exposure to carcinogens and other toxins.

The key to reducing health concerns by exposure is stringent decontamination practices, baseline Pre & Post (medical protocols), and strong educational programs.


EXTRA:

"The Fire Still Burns"- Episode 1 shares the best reason why all rescuers on the job should 'wear the mask!" This mini-series of interviews brings surviving first responders from historical events.  They share and describe their firsthand experiences and express their thoughts about safety, their health and  concerns about all first responders.  This episode highlights GARY STEMM's experiences at the 1975 NY Tel Exchange Fire, a disastrous event where 680+ responders perished from the largest fires in NYC history which affected most of the responders lives due to the toxic nature of this deadly fire.



CONTRIBUTING WRITER
DARRYL VANDERMARK is an active Fire Instructor at the Orange County Department of Emergency Services - Division of Fire with a strong background in education as a graduate of New York State college (SUNY)  Associate in Fire Science and an Educator at the New York State Academy of Fire Science, National Fire Academy, and US Department of Homeland Security . He also maintains a private profession as an Environmental Health & Safety Specialist and Instructor for ERTT (Emergency Response & Technical Training Services), supporting all response and rescue units and environmental remediation services.  He is a Retired Deputy Fire Coordinator (Chief) of the Orange County, New York Department of Emergency Services HAZ-MAT/WMD Response Team with over 30 years of Fire Service.  He is recently appointed as a health awareness ambassador of the NY CANCER RESOURCE ALLIANCE “Get Checked Now!” program for Orange County where he supports cancer prevention through public presentations and writing articles for the First Responders Health Resource.



This article is sponsored by: ERTT.org Emergency Response & Technical Training Svcs.



References:
1)What is Barrett's Esophagus? https://www.asge.org/home/for-patients/patient-information/understanding-barrett-39-s-esophagus
2)Firefighter decon challenges: knowledge versus practice /Posted: Feb. 7, 2019: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/current_events/020719.html


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