NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The South Carolina State Firefighters Association is conducting a survey of its members, both paid and voluntary firefighters. It is building a database of cancer occurrences in the state.
"The most important thing is the educate firefighters that they face this risk, that they're at a higher risk of cancer than the general population and there are simple steps they can take to reduce that risk," North Charleston Fire chief Greg Bulanow said.
The association is conducting a survey of its members who have cancer or are survivors. Chief Bulanow says it is important that all firefighters respond, both career and volunteer. The purpose of the survey is to build information on the disease and identify and trends that may be associated with a career at a fire department.
With the data, the association's goal is to provide more effective benefits, specifically with the South Carolina First Responder health and safety programs, services and resources. It will also propose any necessary legislation to better protect and serve its members.
"Once we have that information, we can use it to guide our prevention efforts," Bulanow said. "By increasing the amount of physicals and access to physicals to firefighters across the state, that, if they do get cancer, it could be detected at an earlier stage and treated more quickly."
That physical may have saved Bulanow's life.
"I was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. It was thyroid cancer, which is more common among firefighters," the fire chief explained. "I was very fortunate that, through a fire department physical, I found my cancer at an early stage."
Fighting fires is most likely what caused his run-in with the disease, but Bulanow said he has no regrets with his career path.
"I love this job and most firefighters love this job and wouldn't think of doing anything else."
The risks may be greater for firefighters but education and prevention can save lives.
Firefighters across the state who have any type of cancer or are a survivor are asked to complete this questionnaire.