After two Schenectady firefighters were diagnosed with cancer this year, almost all the members of the department shaved their heads to spread awareness and raise funds for their treatment.
Unlike most workplaces, the diagnoses were a reminder of a frightening statistic: firefighters get cancer more often than nonfirefighters. Any one of them could be next.
No one knows why cancer hits firefighters so often. Perhaps it’s the chemicals in the air when household plastics burn, some firefighters said. Maybe it’s something else.
But two diagnoses within weeks of each other were “terrifying,” firefighter Aimee Parlatore said.
Now, all the Schenectady firefighters are donning pink for the month of October to fund cancer research. They’re joining forces with a national cancer research team that hopes to discover why firefighters get cancer so often — and how to protect them.
To raise money, firefighters will be selling pink uniform shirts all month. They have formed the Schenectady Firefighters Cancer Foundation to raise money for research and treatment.
“This was started by firefighters. They took it upon themselves to start this initiative,” said Chief Michael Della Rocco.
The pink color corresponds with October’s breast cancer awareness campaign. One in eight women gets breast cancer, but female firefighters are diagnosed more often than other women. Men are in danger too.
“Male firefighters as a group get more breast cancer than any other group of men,” Della Rocco said.
Councilwoman Margaret King, an 18-year survivor of breast cancer, is supporting the firefighters’ efforts. As a survivor, she said, the issue is close to her heart. She urges everyone to get tested regularly.
“When breast cancer is detected early, in the localized state, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent,” she said.
But firefighters are susceptible to many other cancers. The most recent diagnoses were for leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Both firefighters are now back on duty.
Parlatore hopes research will determine why firefighters get cancer.
“The research team is looking into this. Our equipment, it’s good, but …” she said, suggesting research could lead to better equipment. “That’s really our best defense.”
To support the group’s efforts, go to their website, http://neverfightalone.org. It is still under development, but those who want to buy pink shirts and other items can email Parlatore there.