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Posted By Near Miss Team/ Wednesday, January 9, 2019 / Print


After undergoing an annual physical, a member was diagnosed with cancer. Early detection proved to be a lifesaver.


While participating in an annual physical exam, a positive colon cancer was detected. This positive test was confirmed by an outside source. This case is one of four or five that have surfaced in the last three years.

Extensive annual physical exams for all fire/rescue personnel are a must. In fact, an intense wellness-fitness program should be an integral part of every department. The annual physical exam is, in part, a discovery phase. Other components of a wellness-fitness program may help reduce the chance of developing this disease or at the very least promote early detection.

View the report: Positive Colon Cancer Detected at Annual Physical


Annual physicals should be a key component of every department’s comprehensive fitness and wellness program. There are many near-miss reports highlighting the benefits of these regular assessments. Annual physical exams provide an initial baseline and identify any subsequent changes that occur over the course of our careers. Recommendations for firefighter physicals can be found in NFPA 1582 - Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments.


  1. What has your organization done to reduce or eliminate sources of exposure to carcinogens? What can you do as an individual?
  2. What procedures have been implemented to reduce exposures on the fireground? In the station?
  3. Does your department have a policy to prohibit the use of tobacco?
  4. Does your department provide comprehensive annual exams? Are screenings such as colonoscopies, prostate exams and mammograms included? What other tests should be included?
  5. How are hazardous exposures tracked and documented in your organization. Who is responsible? Do you keep a personal log?
  6. How are turnouts and PPE cleaned after being contaminated? Is this done in-house or are they sent to an outside vendor?


There is a lot of research that has linked the job of firefighter to a higher incidence of certain types of cancer. The precipitating cause of cancer can be very difficult to ascertain, because the cancer may appear many years or even decades after the initial exposure. This underscores the importance of regular checkups throughout our careers.

The fire service has made great strides in attempting to reduce and eliminate on-the-job exposures, but we still have a long way to go to eradicate this deadly disease. There are many resources and organizations that can help us to learn more about cancer prevention and assist those who are battling this terrible disease.

The Firefighter Cancer Support Network is an excellent organization that can assist us in education, prevention and treatment options. They can put cancer patients in touch with others who have dealt with the difficult issues they are facing.

The IAFC’s Volunteer and Combination Officers Section and the National Volunteer Fire Council have partnered to release the Lavender Ribbon Report: Best Practices for Preventing Firefighter Cancer (PDF). This report provides 11 actions that can be taken to mitigate the risk of cancer for firefighters.

Unfortunately, the topic of firefighter cancer has had a significantly increasing impact on firefighter health and welfare. Great strides have been made by departments and responders everywhere in combating and preventing cancer, but more still needs to be done. Now is the time to make changes.

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