The nation’s firefighters put their lives at risk every day, working together to save structures, people and the environment from the dangers of fires. They face flames, heat and toxins that threaten them as they work, and years down the road.

Many times, firefighters are subject to illnesses that can ruin their lives. They are often exposed to dangerous chemicals while fighting fires that cause serious harm. In fact, depending on the intensity of the fire, firefighters can be exposed to over ten different chemicals that can have long-term adverse health effects. Here are just a few of the potentially deadly risks that firefighters face every time they respond to a call.


There are many different chemicals and substances that firefighters must deal with on a regular basis that are known carcinogens and pose a threat. While firefighters wear protective gear and facemasks with fresh oxygen to reduce the possibility of inhaling such dangerous chemicals, they still face the real threat of cancer at some point in their lives.

One of the biggest cancer risks is mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the thin layer of tissue that covers most internal organs and is most commonly found in the lungs. Most cases of mesothelioma develop after exposure to asbestos, a material that used to be used for sound dampening and fire resistance.

Firefighters — especially those who respond in urban areas — are at risk to asbestos exposure in older building when the use of the material was common. Symptoms can take up to 50 years to develop and include shortness of breath, chest pains, a persistent cough and weight loss.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, attorneys like Belluck & Fox can help.

Firefighters training

Respiratory Disease

Cancer isn’t the only major illness that firefighters face. Despite their best efforts, they are often exposed to smoke that can eventually cause such problems as emphysema — also known as COPD — and others that cause shortness of breath.

COPD occurs when carbon deposits from smoke inhalation form inside the lungs, making it harder for them to take in the oxygen needed to live. This can range from a mild state where the person has trouble breathing during strenuous activities, to severe cases where oxygen tubes are needed to deliver the amount needed.

Much in the way that COPD affects life-long smokers, firefighters who are continually exposed to the thick smoke of structure fires run the risk of COPD later in life.


Stress plays a large role in many firefighters live, especially those who respond on a regular basis. The stress of fighting the fires, trying to save lives and the constant possibility of danger can result in several problems.

Stress lowers the immune system’s tolerance to invasive bacteria and viruses, which can cause firefighters to become ill more often. Firefighters who experience a lot of stress may have trouble sleeping, as the body’s response to stress is to release hormones that keep you alert in case of danger. This can also lead to depression or withdrawal from friends and family, and, in extreme cases or after a particular tough job, can result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Firefighters face a tough job every day. Not only do they risk their lives, they also risk dangerous conditions and diseases that may affect them for the rest of their lives.

Anna Willis has been married to her firefighter husband for over twenty years. She is an active supporter of the firefighters charity and raises awareness of issues the firefighters face daily in her articles.


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