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Firefighter Resources, Cancer and Other Illnesses

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Cancer and Other Illnesses



Join the National Firefighter Registry (NFR) for Cancer today! The NFR is the largest existing effort to understand and reduce cancer risk among firefighters. All U.S. firefighters, with or without cancer, can join. Visit the NFR website to learn more.

Firefighter Cancer Study

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

  • With more than 30,000 career firefighters who served in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco Fire Departments between 1950 and 2010, it is the largest study of United States firefighters ever undertaken. In addition, both non-white and female firefighters 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 firefighters 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 Exposure
  • 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 firefighters, 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 Firefighters
  • 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 firefighter tasks, such as carrying extra weight of equipment and working in hot environments, may increase firefighters’ risk for rhabdo