When two Goodyear, AZ Local 4005 fire fighters in their early 30s developed aggressive forms of cancer within six months of one another in 2015, members of the United Goodyear Fire Fighters decided to take action.
Local 4005 President Stephen Gilman — along with strong support from labor management — initiated a “Fight Against Cancer Pledge” that members have signed, promising to take the extra precautions to decrease their risk of cancer from exposure to carcinogens.
In an interview with local news Channel 10, President Gilman stated, “The research has gotten very in-depth. This isn’t just a Goodyear problem. This is a nation-wide problem. Fire fighters across the nation are coming up with alarming rates of cancer due to the synthetic fibers that are being used in building construction and materials.”
The pledge requests that members take certain steps to reduce exposure, including using wipes on vulnerable areas immediately after an incident, wearing masks from start to finish, and cleaning turnout gear and showering immediately after returning to the station.
“A lot of this stuff is just a cultural shift in how we used to do things,” says President Gilman. “We have to get away from the old ways of ‘the dirtier the better’ because the old ways are killing us. We take such good care of our trucks and equipment, and we need to start taking care of ourselves.”
President Gilman also explained that the fight against cancer is just the beginning of the road for some members.
When Local 4005 fire fighter Gilberto Aguirre was diagnosed with myeloid leukemia, not only did he have to fight the cancer (President Gilmanis happy to report that Aguirre has been diagnosed cancer-free), but he had to fight to get coverage as well. “When a fire fighter is battling for their life, the last thing they should have to worry about is whether or not they are going to be covered,” he says.
Arizona is one of 34 states with have presumptive coverage for certain cancers for fire fighters, but President Gilman maintains that there is a standard practice of pushback and resistance from the Industrial Commission of Arizona when it comes to proving a fire fighter’s cancer was caused by on-the-job exposure to carcinogens.
One of the hopes in publicizing the pledge is to inform the public and elected officials of the secondary dangers of the job. “Everyone knows fire fighting is an inherently dangerous job,” says President Gilman. “But not everyone knows that more fire fighters are dying of cancer than ever before — and we have to start having their backs.”