They run into collapsing buildings, feel the radiating heat from the flames they battle, but there are other dangers firefighters face as they’re putting their lives on the line.
“Your whole world literally stops,” said Dwain Wilcox, driver engineer.
“Yeah, your stomach drops to your feet. You can feel it in your throat soon as he sits down and says, ‘Yeah. You have cancer,'” said Mike Redshaw, captain paramedic.
Cancer. The word nobody ever wants to hear, yet is an all too scary reality for those in this line of duty.
“They’re several things in smoke that make our jobs that much more riskier. You know, you got carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide,” said Jim Furgerson, Joplin Fire Chief.
Formaldehyde, nitrogen oxides, the list goes on.
“There was one big fire years ago in a lumber yard and almost every guy that was on that fire has died or been diagnosed with some kind of cancer,” said Redshaw.
These chemicals are extremely dangerous when inhaled; in fact, if they enter the body fast enough, they can cause immediate death. Departments take precautionary measures to protect firefighters, like with their masks and gear. They also get annual physicals, which is how Wilcox and Redshaw caught their cancer early.
“You know, I want my guys to go home at night and I want them to live a long time after they retire from this career,” said Chief Furgerson.
Wilcox and Redshaw can continue to do what they love and do it cancer free.
“We love our job. We love what we do,” said Redshaw.
“It’s a calling. It’s a passion and after you’ve done it for long enough, it becomes a way of life,” said Wilcox.