CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) is spreading awareness about cancer in firemen and firewomen.

In Charleston, local firefighter John Baker is helping educate people about the fact that firefighters are at a higher risk of developing cancer than the general public.

“It’s gut-wrenching. It really is. I’ve personally known people who have gotten cancer, beat cancer and died from cancer. It’s a very unfortunate event. We just try to remember the people that have passed. We’re doing this for them. We’re making our fire service, which is a dirty job, as safe as possible,” said Baker, who is the Secretary of the Charleston Firefighters Local 61.

The over 250 carcinogens in an average house fire contribute to the higher cancer risk. Many of the toxic chemicals, including arsenic, asbestos and benzene, can cause multiple types of cancer.

“Firefighters have a nine percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and 14 percent higher chance of dying from cancer compared to the general United States population,” said Baker.

Part of Baker’s mission is to get legislation passed and best practices implemented to help keep firefighters safe. He has several safety protocols that should be done in every department.

“Each firefighter is given two sets of gear. We have the opportunity to get done with that fire, get back to the station, break that gear down, send that gear to our personal protective equipment team who then can decontaminate that gear directly. In the meantime, we have that second set of gear so that way we can go right back into service after we’ve cleaned up and decontaminated all of our equipment,” said Baker.

Other safety precautions are to have vents for fire truck diesel fumes in stations, not wearing personal protective equipment for work outs and using gloves to handle dirty gear.

The good news is that progress is being made.

Legislation was passed in South Carolina in 2020 to ensure that firefighters who get and have cancer can receive financial benefits to help pay for their medical expenses.

“Seeing that these fire departments and state legislators are getting behind protecting our firefighters with cancer benefits is a massive step in the right direction,” said Baker.

In Baker’s opinion, more work has to be done with safety measures for departments across the state.

“The biggest thing that we’re trying to push is building that awareness,” said Baker “firefightercancersupport.org is a great tool to learn more about what firefighters go through.”