© 2024 KUNR
Illustration of rolling hills with occasional trees and a radio tower.
Serving Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Enrollment grows steadily in study of firefighting and cancer, but officials hope to speed signup

The Four Corners wildfire is burning west of Lake Cascade in Central Idaho.
U.S. Forest Service - Payette National Forest
The Four Corners wildfire burning west of Lake Cascade in Central Idaho in 2022.

The National Firefighter Registry is perhaps the most ambitious effort to better understand the link between firefighting and cancer. It’s been live for about a year, and officials behind it are looking to encourage more enrollment.

As of late May last year, some 5,000 firefighters had voluntarily signed up for the registry, around 800 of whom had some wildland fire experience. The total is now over 10,000, about 1,800 of whom were wildland firefighters, according to Kenny Fent, an industrial hygienist with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) who is overseeing the registry. NIOSH is a part of the CDC.

“We've got a lot more work to do just to get the word out and explain why this is important,” Fent told the Mountain West News Bureau, adding: “I think we were optimistic that we would be at higher numbers right now than what we are.”

Last year he said they’d like to get to 200,000 total firefighters within several years, but this month he said they’d be very pleased with 100,000. He said enrollment so far has largely been through word of mouth, and they’re hoping to do more outreach.

The largest similar study had around 30,000 participants, and Fent said the registry is on a good trajectory to exceed that figure. All firefighters are strongly encouraged to enroll. But Fent says the rising frequency with which wildland firefighters are exposed to burning homes and other hazardous man-made materials makes their participation all the more important.

“And once you have man-made materials that are involved, the mixture of contaminants that are produced is much more complex and much more hazardous,” he said. “And what I would say to wildland firefighters is that you need to join the registry because you are having those kinds of exposures and we do not understand the health implications.”

If you are a firefighter of any kind, or have ever worked as one, you can register for the NFR here.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.