La Crosse Fire Department addresses cancer; leading cause of death among firefighters

It’s a problem Captain Lance Tryggestad with the La Crosse Fire Department says he never thought twice about, when he became a firefighter 22 years ago.

“You think about heart attacks, you think about the stress it puts on your heart, physical fitness, trauma.”

But none of those things are the leading cause of death among firefighters.

“They’re twice as likely to get some cancers than the general population.”

They battle the fires and then many end up battling cancer.

Sixty one percent of line-of-duty firefighters died from cancer between January of 2002 to March of 2017, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

That’s why in the last year, the La Crosse Fire Department has installed specialized washers in all of its fire stations, to make sure carcinogens are being thoroughly washed from gear.

Exhaust collection devices were also added, to capture exhaust and make sure it’s going out of the building and not in.

La Crosse Fire Chief Ken Gilliam says he’s hoping all of these efforts, and more, will keep his team battling everything the job comes with, except cancer.

“Really my number one goal is to not bury one of my employees, I think as we look at what we can control, what is predictable, certainly preventable, and we’re able to start to analyze those needs.”

Another goal the department is hoping to accomplish is getting a second set of gear for all its firefighters.

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