As firefighters battle a blaze, they are exposed to chemicals and minerals like asbestos, formaldehyde and benzene that can stick to their gear, get on their skin or into their lungs. Numerous studies show this kind of exposure can increase the risk of cancer.
At least 257 North Carolina firefighters were diagnosed with cancer in the past decade, according to a survey of 77 departments by the state's Association of Fire Chiefs.
Fire chiefs met with physicians and representatives from NC State University, the Levine Cancer Institute and other groups Monday night in Concord to discuss possible ways to lower that number.
They considered ways to try to reduce the risk, like teaching firefighters to properly clean their gear and making safety information widely available across the state.
Retired Concord Fire Chief Ray Allen, who fought fires for nearly three decades, said the old firefighting attitude needs to change.
"That culture was too macho," Allen said.
He said firefighters used to remove their breathing apparatus once a fire was extinguished--rather than waiting until they left the site completely -- and viewed dirty gear as a badge of honor.
"Those are the things that we've got to put in the past," Allen said.
The group plans to meet again in Raleigh in May.