When firefighters fight fires, they’re battling more than flames. They’re at war with cancer-causing contaminants ubiquitous within blazing infernos, from black smoke to burning materials like paint and plastic, and various chemicals. These “by-products of combustion” can get inhaled into the lungs, absorbed through the skin, ingested and filtered through vital organs, and more. Because of this, firefighters are 9% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than the average American. Worse, they’re more likely to die from these cancers. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), firefighters have a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer when compared to the general population in the United States.
Bob Pera spent 30 years serving in the Los Angeles County Fire Department. One month after retirement, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Had he known more about the increased risk of getting cancer and what to do to prevent it, maybe he wouldn’t have gotten cancer at all.
“I wouldn’t have traded my service in the fire department for anything, but if I would have known the outcome, I definitely would have done things differently.”
After sharing his story on Facebook and receiving thousands of views and hundreds of comments, Bob realized he could and had to do more. With the help of his daughter, Amber, the concept for Extinguish Cancer was born. Today, Bob is on a mission through this non-profit organization to educate other fire service members about the hidden dangers of the job and their increased health risks to help prevent cancer from sinking its claws into more service members.
Through Extinguish Cancer, Bob, who is now thankfully in remission after fighting a precarious and tedious two-year battle against bladder cancer, volunteers his time traveling to fire stations for round-table discussions with fire crews. He shares his story firsthand and teaches them everything he knows so they won’t become another statistic.
Utilizing proceeds from T-shirt sales and charitable donations, Extinguish Cancer also provides the following:
Educational talks to new recruits and students in fire science classes
Support to members diagnosed with cancer and their families
Financial assistance to firefighters and families dealing with cancer