silhouettes of fire fighters fighting a fire

Cancer and Other Illnesses



National Fire Fighter Registry: On Monday, July 9th 2018 President Donald Trump signed legislation requiring the CDC to set up a registry of fire fightersexternal icon that will track links between their workplace exposures and cancer. NIOSH will take the lead in establishing the registry. In FY19, Congress appropriated $1 million to NIOSH towards implementation activities related to the Firefighter Cancer Registry. The language can be found in the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference-Division B-Labor, HHS accompanying H.R. 6157.  If you have questions, email

National Fire Fighter Registry: Questions and Answers

  1. Why is this registry being created?
    Previous studies, including a multi-year study completed by NIOSHpdf icon , indicate that firefighters are at a higher risk of cancer. However, these studies are limited by the inclusion of only small numbers of women and minorities, and a lack of data on volunteer firefighters. The registry will help provide more complete and representative information about fire fighters in the U.S. so that we may better understand the link between workplace exposures and cancer.
  2. Who is NIOSH, and why is NIOSH in charge of collecting data for the registry?
    As the CDC agency responsible for occupational safety and health research, NIOSH has decades of experience designing and conducting occupational cancer studies and establishing cohorts of workers that are followed over time to evaluate cancer incidence.
  3. How will the data be collected?
    NIOSH will design an approach that is systematic and scientifically valid, and will include under-studied groups such as women, minorities, and volunteer fire fighters. We will begin by collecting employment records from participating U.S. fire departments. These records will be processed and then linked with data from state cancer registries to obtain diagnosis information.
  4. How will the registry be used?
    The registry will include fire fighters from a variety of different fire departments (e.g., urban, rural, career, on-call, volunteer). Once established, the registry will be matched against national and state databases to determine causes of death and cancer among fire fighters. For example, statistical analyses will be conducted to investigate the risk of cancer among fire fighters compared to what is seen in the general population.
  5. Will the data in this registry be available to the public?
    Yes. Findings that come from registry data will be available without personal or identifiable information via scientific publications and communications to the public. We also plan to make data from the registry available to investigators who request it, with the appropriate approval.

Fire Fighter Cancer Study

In 2010, NIOSH researchers, with funding assistance from the U.S. Fire Administrationexternal icon launched a multi-year studypdf icon to examine whether fire fighters have a higher risk of cancer and other causes of death due to job exposures. Our study was designed to address limitations of previous fire fighter cancer research.

  • With more than 30,000 career fire fighters who served in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco Fire Departments between 1950 and 2010, it is the largest study of United States fire fighters ever undertaken. In addition, both non-white and female fire fighters are represented.
  • We looked not only at deaths from cancer, but also at the diagnosis of certain kinds of cancer, such as testicular and prostate cancer, which have higher survival rates. We also examined other causes of death to better understand the risk for various cancers and illnesses among fire fighters compared to the general public.
  • We examined more exposures than previous studies. We looked at the number and type of fire runs made (for example, EMS and vehicle fire) and the use of personal protective equipment and diesel exhaust controls.


Heart Disease

Hearing Loss

Preventing Hearing Loss
  • NIOSH recommends workplace noise levels are below 85 dBA (8-hour time-weighted average of 85 dBA based on a 3-dB exchange rate).
  • NIOSH provides standards to help prevent workplace hearing loss, Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Noise Exposurepdf icon
  • Routine fire fighting tasks and emergency response activities often result in noise exposure that exceeds NIOSH recommendations.
  • Repeated exposure may gradually cause work-related hearing loss.
  • To prevent hearing impairment among fire fighters, we recommend using engineering and administrative controls to limit overall exposure to noise.
  • When controls are not possible, we recommend hearing protection training and limiting noise exposures.



Preventing Rhabdomyolysis among Fire Fighters
  • Rhabdomyolysis (often called rhabdo) is the breakdown of muscle tissue and has many causes including heat exposure, high core body temperature, and prolonged, intense exertion
  • Early treatment can prevent serious medical problems.
  • If not quickly identified and treated, rhabdo can result in:
    • Death
    • Kidney failure requiring lifelong kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant
    • Permanent disability
  • Routine fire fighter tasks, such as carrying extra weight of equipment and working in hot environments, may increase fire fighters’ risk for rhabdo


Structural Fire Fighters

Wildland Fire Fighters

Medical Professionals

Page last reviewed: August 8, 2018