It’s the type of remark you’re likely to see coming from a firefighter in the comments section or the Facebook page of STATter911 or another fire service website. It usually occurs when there’s a video or image of firefighters not properly wearing their PPE. But have you ever seen your local newspaper call out firefighters for not wearing their masks on the fireground?
It’s happened today (Sunday) in a number of newspapers and websites around the country (see the images on this page). All are owned by GateHouse Media and are running the five-day series by Columbus (OH) Dispatch reporters Mike Wagner and Lucas Sullivan titled Unmasked: Firefighters & Cancer.
This remarkable effort by a news organization focuses in part on Columbus firefighter Mark Rine who has stage 4 melanoma. Despite doctors predicting only a five-percent chance of surviving five years, Rine has devoted his efforts to warn others about the reality he and many other firefighters face and some tough talk about cancer prevention.
The Dispatch survey found that 90 percent of fire chiefs believed that their firefighters knew of the threats of chemical exposure, but a third of firefighters said they didn’t.
Fewer than half of rural departments in Ohio offer training or have implemented policies to prevent cancer, according to the survey of fire chiefs. Those numbers were better in suburban and urban departments, although a third of them also have not implemented cancer-prevention policies.
Departments rarely punish firefighters who don’t follow cancer-prevention policies, such as wearing their masks while on a fire scene.
Fire officials, chiefs and union leaders say they have made progress in the past decade in alerting firefighters about the cancer threat and implementing measures to protect them. All admit that it’s an arduous process.
Reporters and editors pay attention to extensive reporting efforts like this one in Columbus. It can influence news coverage in their communities. With all of the work that has been done to get cancer presumption laws around the country and the public expense that goes with it, don’t be surprised if you see more news organizations focusing on this issue. This may include more mainstream media organizations pointing out what their local fire departments are doing to prevent cancer. And it may include more images that highlight firefighters or departments that aren’t getting the message.