Nearly three hundred names have been added to the Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Colorado Springs. Occupational cancer claimed many of those lives.
The names of fallen firefighters are unveiled — etched into a long granite wall — in an annual ceremony in Colorado Springs’ Memorial Park. Many of this year’s additions are people who died in 2017, some while fighting fires.
But more than a third of the names this year are being added retroactively. That’s because most of those deaths were due to certain types cancer which have now been recognized as an occupational hazard thanks to legislation in Canada and some U.S. states.
David Noblitt with the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association said the laws acknowledge the reality that some firefighter deaths are, “directly attributed to the contraction of those diseases through their duties and assignments as a firefighter.”
He was referring to duties that require firefighters to be exposed to carcinogenic chemicals like those from burning buildings. Noblitt expects the number of recognized occupational cancer deaths among firefighters to grow as more states enact these kinds of laws.
“This is a very real situation in which our firefighters are dying at a higher rate of these cancers than the general population,” Noblitt said.
Thirty-three U.S. states currently have laws recognizing firefighter cancers, including Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming in the Mountain West.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.