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Firefighters Face More Than Just Physical Injuries When Battling Fires

Three firefighters brace themselves from explosive heat coming from a burning...

Photo by Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press

Above: Three firefighters brace themselves from explosive heat coming from a burning home in the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego, set off by a wildfire seen here in a file photo taken Monday, Oct. 22, 2007.

Firefighters face life and death situations when they charge into burning buildings. But beyond the immediate physical dangers are other deadly risks.

When buildings burn, they can coat firefighters with a host of toxic chemicals that can eventually lead to cancer. The cancer rate among firefighters is 9% higher than the general population, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Listen to this story by John Carroll.

“When you come on the job and go through the fire academy, you're taught to handle the emergencies that you can see,” Capt. Jesse Conner, president of the San Diego Firefighters Association, said. “Cancer’s kind of that, that unforeseen circumstance. You don't know that it's working in the background. You're exposed to carcinogens through smoke products that combustion for a long duration and you're absorbing, you're inhaling those things.”

RELATED: San Diego Among Top Cities For Homes At High Risk Of Wildfire Destruction

San Diego Fire-Rescue Department has implemented a number of procedures to keep firefighters safe, even after the fire has been put out.

“So now we're wearing our breathing apparatus, not only during the fire but after the fire, when we're sifting through the debris and making sure all the embers are out,” Conner said. “Because all of that stuff is still off-gassing.”

Safety steps are also taken when they return to the firehouse. They now know that toxic chemicals can also be absorbed through the skin, so a thorough shower is a top priority. They also wash their gear in industrial machines.

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