Stock fire photo

Stock photo

File, Jonathan Miano | The Times

MUNSTER — Firefighting is a naturally risky job. Men and women in the field have a greater chance than the general population of being diagnosed with an occupational-related cancer.

The risks come with the territory, but there are ways to reduce exposure and minimize harm, said Joe Martin, 32, a veteran Griffith firefighter and lead instructor for the Lake County Recruit Firefighter Academy.

Martin is one of two people leading a four-hour class on Tuesday night at the Munster Center For Visual & Performing Arts. The course, which runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., is designed to educate firefighters about the health risks they face on the job along with practical tips that can minimize exposure to cancer-causing contaminants. 

"We're still going to fight fires. That's what we do and that's what we signed up for. But how can we better protect ourselves?" Martin said. 

Taking Action Against Cancer in the Fire Service is open to any fire personnel in Indiana District 1 Task Force, which includes Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Newton and Jasper counties, he said. 

The class will focus on education and changes that departments can make in terms of training, operations, and equipment to reduce exposures to cancer-causing chemicals and work hazards, he said. 

Showering soon after responding to a call, cleaning equipment and wearing the appropriate apparatus should be the standard for all departments, but it doesn't always happen, Martin said.  

The training course is held every few months throughout District 1. Often times, fire chiefs take what they learn back to their department and implement changes in operating procedures, he said. 

"A lot of these changes cost money. But the chiefs seem to be open to all kinds of changes, whether it's monetary, philosophical or a change in culture," he said. 

Firefighters will learn the risk factors associated with fire/smoke and how to protect ourselves during and post-fire, according to event details. 

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, will also be on hand to discuss the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2017, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

The bill, if it turns into law, will provide federal funding to help protect firefighters and require the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create and maintain a registry of firefighters diagnosed with cancer. 

Martin will teach the course with Ryan Cusack, a lieutenant and paramedic with the Crown Point Fire Department, he said. The Munster Fire Department is hosting the event.

To RSVP, visit 

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Public safety reporter

Lauren covers breaking news, crime and courts for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet covering government, public policy, and the region’s heroin epidemic. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.