Fighting fires is a dangerous profession, and the danger goes beyond the hazards of running into a burning building.
Numerous studies show that firefighters’ exposure on the fireground, where smoke and hazardous chemicals are released from burning materials, may increase their risk of cancer and other chronic diseases. While the association between firefighting and disease seems clear, more information about these health risks is needed—especially with regard to the higher risk of cancer among firefighters.
To better understand the link between on-the-job exposure to toxicants and cancer, Congress directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)external icon to create the National Firefighter Registry (NFR).
The NFR will be used to track and analyze cancer trends and risk factors among the U.S. fire service to help the public safety community, researchers, scientists and medical professionals find better ways to protect those who protect our communities and environment.
All firefighters—structural and wildland, career and volunteer, active and retired—should consider participating in the NFR. This includes firefighters who have never received a cancer diagnosis, previously had cancer, or currently have cancer.
Participation in the NFR is voluntary. But by providing vital information about their own health and work experiences, firefighters who register for the NFR will play a critical role in helping to better understand the health risks this profession faces.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), working closely with stakeholders and health experts, will take the lead on creating the NFR.
If you have questions, email NFRegistry@cdc.gov.
The NFR Timeline
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is NIOSH?
NIOSH is the part of the CDC responsible for conducting research and making recommendations to reduce workplace illness and injury.
What is the NFR?
The National Firefighter Registry, or NFR, will be a large database of health and occupational information on firefighters that can be used to analyze and track cancer and identify occupational risk factors for cancer to help the public safety community, researchers, scientists and medical professionals find better ways to protect those who protect our communities and environment. With voluntary participation from firefighters, the NFR will include information about firefighter characteristics, work assignments and exposure, and relevant health details to monitor, track and improve our knowledge about cancer risks for firefighters.
Why was the NFR created?
Studies of cancer in firefighters, including a study published by NIOSH pdf icon found that firefighters may have a greater risk of some types of cancer. But many of these earlier studies did not include volunteer firefighters, or sufficient numbers of female and minority firefighters, to adequately assess their risk. The NFR will include members of these groups, providing a more representative sample of the fire service to gain greater insights into the connection between firefighting and cancer.
How will the NFR help firefighters?
It will provide critical information needed to protect the health of firefighters. We may find that some groups of firefighters or certain response activities are associated with a greater risk of cancer than others due to differences in exposure, geography, gender or other factors. We also hope to learn more about how certain protective measures may reduce the risk of cancer.
How do I enroll?
Enrollment is not yet open, but there will be an opportunity in the near future for all firefighters to enroll. NIOSH will keep this webpage updated as the enrollment period approaches.
Can a firefighter enroll if they have never had cancer?
Yes. In fact, firefighters without a cancer diagnosis are just as critical to making the NFR a success as those who have received a cancer diagnosis. NIOSH would like all firefighters to be part of the NFR, not just those with cancer or other illnesses. We encourage anyone who has ever been a firefighter to join the NFR. This includes all active and former firefighters, such as volunteer, paid-on-call, part time, seasonal, and career firefighters. There is no minimum service time required to register in the NFR.
Do firefighters have to join the NFR?
No. Being part of the NFR is completely voluntary, and no one can make a firefighter join. NIOSH needs your consent for you to be part of the NFR. However, participation is strongly encouraged because it will help improve the health and safety of the firefighter community today and in the future. The NFR is your opportunity to leave a legacy for those who follow you.
How will the data be collected?
After obtaining the consent of each firefighter in the NFR, we will collect risk factor information from firefighters through web-based surveys, well-known exposure tracking applications, and from fire department records. Long term, NIOSH will monitor potential cancer diagnoses for firefighters enrolled in the NFR by linking information with state databases of cancer diagnoses, known as state cancer registries.
Do NFR participants need to contact NIOSH if they are diagnosed with cancer?
No. NIOSH will be able to track information related to cancer by linking information on individual firefighters enrolled in the NFR with state cancer registries. Firefighters should consult with their doctor if they have any concerns about their health.
How will the registry be used?
Data from the NFR will be matched with information from national and state databases to track cancer cases and find out about causes of death among firefighters. NIOSH investigators will use these data to compare the risk of cancer among firefighters to that of the rest of the U.S. population.
Will NIOSH share information collected for the NFR?
Data from individuals participating in the NFR will be protected to the fullest extent allowed by law. Without a participant’s written permission, NIOSH cannot share identifiable information with external parties. The overall or aggregate findings from the NFR will be shared with the fire service, scientific community, and the public.