ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — Rushing into a burning building presents many risks to firefighters beyond the obvious; one of those risks is exposure to carcinogenic contaminants. A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that firefighters face a 9% increase in cancer diagnoses, and a 14% increase in cancer-related deaths.
Working to raise awareness among of these issues are Casey Jones of the Little Rock (Arkansas) Fire Department and Shawn Downs of Washington, D.C., Fire and EMS. In recognition of their commitments to this cause and to the fire service, their career achievements and community efforts, Columbia Southern University (CSU) fire administration faculty selected Jones as the 2019 Outstanding Fire Service Professional of the Year. Downs was selected as this year’s runner-up.
Jones, who is a fire engineer and hazardous materials technician in the Special Operations Unit, Hazmat 11, has worked in Little Rock for the past 12 years. During this service, he has won numerous awards including Firefighter of the Year, Employee of the Year, a community service award, and the Garry Briese Safety Performance Award from the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Safety, Health and Survival Section.
Jones, a 2019 CSU graduate, developed a training program focused on mitigating the risks associated with firefighter contamination from smoke. His efforts led the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to create a video that explains the risks that firefighters face during smoke exposures. Jones has also shared his knowledge with hundreds of other firefighters at national conferences and fire departments.
Jones was inspired to pursue this research while taking a CSU course for his bachelor’s degree.
“During this course, I started a project that researched the dangers of fire-produced smoke and particulates and the health effects on firefighters. The research was shocking and outcomes overwhelming,” he said.
Similarly, Downs, a battalion fire chief and current CSU student, has worked diligently to educate his D.C. department since 2016 about the risks of cancer. In fact, he instituted the district's first cancer prevention/reduction plan for its members and has had great success.
The former Marine’s help doesn’t end there. Downs has done quite a bit for his community including serving as a fire chief with the Bay District Volunteer Fire Department, working extensively with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and dressing up as a superhero to visit hospitalized children.
The Outstanding Fire Service Professional award was established as part of National Fire Prevention Month and to recognize CSU fire service students and graduates for their commitment to safety, professionalism and their accomplishments in the industry.
For more information about CSU, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu.
Source: Firefighters and cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2019, from https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Resources/Emergency-Responders/Health-and-Wellness/Firefighters-and-cancer.