In the weeks following the death of former city of Brookfield firefighter and paramedic Marcia Rosecky, officials are voicing their intent to address the issue of firefighter-related cancer in her honor.
City of Brookfield Fire Chief Charlie Myers said that Marcia's case is the department's sole duty-related cancer case in recent years, but he recognizes that the problem goes far beyond Brookfield.
"We need to make sure everybody understands the potential risk and then that we always use the protective equipment that we have to minimize any possible risk," Myers said. "Between the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Fire Fighters, in most cases of these types of things that have to do with health and safety, they're worked together. We do it on a local level, but we also need to do it on a national level."
In 2013, the Firefighter Cancer Support Network invited a small group of experts to Indianapolis, Indiana, to compose a document on cancer among firefighters.
That paper concluded that firefighters are more likely to develop a number of different types of cancer than the general population.
Among the statistics are findings that firefighters are 2.02 times as likely to develop testicular cancer, 1.53 times as likely to develop multiple myeloma and 1.51 times as likely to suffer from non-hodgkin's lymphoma.
Marcia Rosecky passed away last month after battling myeloid leukemia for over 7 years.
According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network's paper, firefighters are 1.14 times as likely to develop leukemia than the general population.
Myers notes that cancer among firefighters is hardly a new issue, but it has had more light shed on it as firefighters involved in the 9/11 tragedy have begun to develop symptoms.
"The topic has actually been around for quite some time in the fire service, but I don't think it really began to get significant notice until after the large number of folks from 9/11," Myers said. "Although we have seen it and been working on it for years, it's been hard to get people to spend money on research."
Myers said Brookfield has done a good job in recent years of providing as many safety nets as possible for its firefighters.
"We're very concerned about it and my predecessors and I have implemented a number of actions over the years to help reduce exposures to carcinogens," Myers said.
Among those precautions are vehicle exhaust extraction systems at all three of the department's stations throughout the city, heavy duty washing machines for cleaning protective clothing of carcinogens remaining after a fire, and shower facilities so that personnel can clean themselves immediately after a call.
Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto said he is fully committed to providing the safest environment possible for the department.
"They obviously perform a critically important function for our community and we want them to be safe doing it," Ponto said. "That safety is a very high priority with me."
Ponto noted that one of his daughters is a firefighter in Madison.
"I sometimes provide her with articles that I come across about what's coming up with fire service in terms of new protective gear," Ponto said. "She went with me to Marcia's funeral."
Marcia Rosecky was forced to retire due to her cancer in December 2008 after having started at the department in May of 1997. Her retirement was funded by Wisconsin Retirement System, Myers said.
Myers said that it is impossible for him to know if Marcia's case could have been prevented had the department had all the safety measures during her tenure that it does now. However, both he and Ponto said that they are dedicated to making sure that Brookfield firefighters will continue to have the most up-to-date precautionary practices available.
"We've been fortunate to have these things in place. We're fortunate that the city saw the need and that the council was good enough to provide those," Myers said. "We need to continue to support and follow the research so that, as we find better ways to protect folks, we can make sure that we're doing that."