LUBBOCK, Texas — One local firefighter is encouraging people to get tested for cancer and said he hopes his story will help other firefighters stay safe and healthy.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, firefighters are nine percent more likely to get a cancer diagnosis.
Lieutenant Brian Gross, with fire station 16, was diagnosed with stage two clear cell carcinoma cancer in 2019. Gross said he was on duty when he got the call that he had cancer.
“I was a 225 lbs, 6’4, tier-one firefighter, [with] no signs, no symptoms,” Gross said. “As firefighters, we like to think of ourselves as tough, and right there was a chink in my armor.”
Gross said what he went through mentally was just as tough as the physical battle.
“Being a fireman, you don’t have lots of time to think about if something is on fire. You don’t think about dying,” Gross said. “You might come out after a fire and say ‘Whew, we almost bought it.’ With cancer, you have a lot of time to think about your mortality.”
Fortunately for Lt. Gross, he said he had been tested through a special exam through LifeScan Wellness which helped detect his stage two cancer.
Joseph Wallace, a firefighter with the Lubbock Professional Firefighters Association, said after Lt. Gross’s diagnosis, the City of Lubbock, along with the support of Lubbock Fire Rescue and Lubbock Professional Firefighters Association, voted to have LifeScan as part of every firefighter’s annual physical.
“LifeScan brings a different aspect to the annual physical for firefighters,” Wallace said. “They do an annual physical assessment, but the ultrasound is what is actually finds the cancer and giving everyone a preliminary diagnosis.”
Wallace said there are other preventive measures firefighters are taking to help minimize the risk of cancer, such as educating their firefighters on helpful habits.
In addition, Wallace said they have a clean initiative where they steam clean their cabs and regularly wash their gear, as well as use decontamination wipes.
Wallace said there is still work that needs to be done in helping firefighters get the health coverage they need.
“One concern we have is the presumptive law for cancer and the holes that are in that coverage,” Wallace said. “We have several members that are part of a legislative team that are working with state legislation to get us better coverage, and to help [provide] us with better health and insurance coverage going forward.”