Tucson Fire Department Uses Cloud Tech to Track and Mitigate Cancer Risk

The cloud technology is giving the Arizona fire department the ability to easily document the efforts at limiting firefighters’ exposure to cancer-causing agents via mobile access to members.

by Jim McKay / January 18, 2019

The revelations that firefighters face greater risk from developing certain cancers is alarming, and many departments are taking action to try to mitigate those risks. One is the Tucson, Ariz., Fire Department, which is both studying the risks and trying to mitigate them with the help of cloud technology.

Two recent studies of firefighters by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health concluded that firefighters face a 9 percent increase in diagnoses and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population of the U.S.

Fire departments are taking action by cleaning gear and washing down personnel after engaging fires, but keeping track of such actions and holding personnel accountable can be a challenge. The Tucson Fire Department is meeting that challenge with cloud-based technology created by PowerDMS.

Since 2016, Tucson Fire has been involved in the Fire Fighter Cancer Cohort Study funded by FEMA that tests firefighters to establish long-term efforts to mitigate the cancer risks to firefighters.

“The cancer studies have been a way for us to verify that when we do respond to fires, we are exposed to cancer-causing elements,” said Darin Wallentine, deputy chief of safety and wellness for Tucson Fire. He said the studies, which have involved analyzing urine, blood and buccal cells from incumbent firefighters and new recruits, have confirmed the risks of responding to fires.

Tucson Fire has instituted some mitigation strategies to try to keep its personnel safe, including wash-downs of firefighters after fires; having backup sets of turnouts to use while the equipment is being cleaned; bagging soiled gear and putting it and dirty hoses in the crow’s nest or exterior compartments of the fire truck while returning to the station.

Wallentine said studies have shown that washing down fire personnel, basically hosing them off and using soap, removes 80 percent of the contaminants that are on them as a result of fighting a fire.

These measures are tracked with the PowerDMS cloud technology, providing accountability and assurance that the firefighters understand policies and which members are complying and which ones are not. The data will be analyzed as part of the ongoing cohort study to help develop more mitigation strategies.

Matt Gasior, content marketing manager at PowerDMS, said the technology offers the department everything it needs to manage its documents and policies. “We look at it like a digital bulletin board for the department,” he said. “It’s a platform where the department can add all of its policies where a firefighter can access it on a mobile device or computer.”

The technology lets the department keep track of training schedules, track necessary training certificates and credentials, and make sure firefighters are updated on changing policies, something that was uncertain before.

“This allows us to ensure the information [the firefighters] are seeing is current,” said Battalion Chief Casey Justen. “The old method was putting documents in a shared drive and our members would have to sift through a number of different documents to make sure they had the most current ones.”

Justen said the technology “tells a story” of how policies have changed and been updated by archiving previous documents. It also notes changes in documents so that firefighters can see the highlighted portions instead of having to go through a whole document. They must sign off that they’ve acknowledged policies or decline.

“Because we haven’t had this, in the past, we’ve never known who looks at it, who doesn’t, and being able to compare and contrast changes for firefighters is a big deal,” Justen said. “It makes their lives a lot easier.”