Washington firefighter hopes to raise awareness of on-the-job ca - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Washington firefighter hopes to raise awareness of on-the-job cancer risks

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SPOKANE, Wash. -

Jim Brown likes a good challenge. The 49-year-old has spent much of his life seeking thrills on mountaintops, bike trails, and even in his job as a firefighter and paramedic in Olympia.

But the biggest challenge of Brown’s life began two years ago when he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

“I cried everyday for probably the first month,” said Brown. “You can run me through the ringer all you want, but making my daughters hurt and creating pain for my wife was hard.”

Brown has had 30 rounds of chemotherapy since his diagnosis, and doctors say he’ll never go into remission.

“I detest it, I hate going through chemo,” said Brown. “You just relive it every time you go up there.”

Brown's cancer was connected to his job based on Washington presumptive legislation.

“When you’re a firefighter you go into buildings where there are toxins burning,” said Brown. “Wood, plastics and textiles are all carcinogens.”

According to at the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation  (ALCF), firefighters are at an even higher risk for contracting lung cancer because of the toxins they deal with on a daily basis.

That’s why Brown was in Spokane on Tuesday talking about “Healthy In, Healthy Out”. Brown told his story in front of hundreds of firefighters during the International Association of Firefighters Conference, raising awareness to cancer risks among firefighters. 

“It will take a cultural change with regards to how we approach toxic atmospheres and how we decontaminate ourselves after exposure in the hazard zones,” said Brown. “It is now a requirement in my department to clean your gear as soon as you get back to the station and we’re holding people accountable.”

Brown says every firefighter should have two sets of gear. He also says fire stations should use industrial washing machines for their gear.

According to ALCF, lung cancer kills more people than breast, ovarian and prostate cancer combined. Eighty percent of those recently diagnosed are people who never smoked, or quit more than a decade ago. 

The ALCF’s goal is to end the stigma that lung cancer is a smoker’s disease. The ALCF says the stigma has led to chronic under funding for a cure for the world’s deadliest cancer.

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