Dangerous jobs come with risks, but firefighters across the country don’t stop fighting battles when the fires are put out.

In November of 2013, Tom Quesnel asked Captain John Gulotta for a favor.

“Don’t let another family suffer like mine,” Quesnel told Gulotta.

And Gulotta said that he went straight to Dr. Jeff Burgess.

Burgess leads a team at the University of Arizona that researches firefighters and they developed a plan.

“When Tucson Fire Department came to us, we created the research agenda and we were able to get that funded, and carry out that research,” said Dr. Burgess, “So as a result of it, we found far more exposures than we anticipated. And we were also able to put interventions in place to reduce the exposure, all because we were working collaboratively with the Tucson Fire Department.”

Studies have shown that one in every three firefighters are diagnosed with cancer.

Firefighters are generally healthier than the general population, yet we continue to see an increase in cancer amongst firefighters. There’s something wrong, said Bryan Freiders, President of the Fire Fighter Cancer Support Network.

TFD has taken precautions as a result of the study and have been using them.

One of our big things right now is we do a wet wash down. So after we go to a fire scene, then that crew comes out of a building where they were in smoke. Before we actually come off of air, we wash ourselves down, said Stuart Sherman, a firefighter for Tucson Fire Department.

And in partnership with other research groups, firefighters from across the country are getting information funneled directly to them on what they can do to keep each other safe.

When we find key results that will impact day to day choices of firefighters, they need to have that the next day, said Dr. Sara Jahnke, President of Science to the Station.

Science to the Station is leading the charge on communication between fire departments.

This past weekend was the first Science to the Station conference held at the Tucson Convention Center.

Burgess and Gulotta presented the results of their study to representatives from across the country.

“I think it’s too soon to look at, you know, the extension of life. But we certainly have found ways to reduce the exposures among Tucson Fire Department personnel,” said Burgess.

And Freiders, a retired fire chief from Pasadena, says the work done by Burgess and TFD is instrumental.

I think it’s a testament to the dedication of not only the University of Arizona and Dr. Burgess, but also the Tucson Fire Department for really dedicating the time and staffing to make sure that we’re understanding why firefighters are continuously being exposed to these dangerous environments, said Freiders.

Quesnel is not the only Tucson firefighter to pass away from cancer in recent years. Captain Jacki deHaro passed away in 2020 after a battle with lung cancer.

The City of Tucson recognized both Quesnel and deHaro as having died in the line of duty.