MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — We all recognize the dangers firefighters face every day protecting the public, but the biggest threat they face may be cancer.

A CDC study found that 68 percent of all firefighters will one day be diagnosed with cancer. That compares with 22 percent of the general public.

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar went to a Minneapolis fire station Monday to announce a new bill she’s sponsoring to create a nationwide cancer registry for firefighters. She says the registry would create a data base that would help researchers, physicians and most importantly firefighters track and determine which kinds of exposure is leading to specific types of cancer.

In raging fires, a toxic mix of flame retardant chemicals, soot and smoke are believed to be contributing to soaring cancer rates. St. Paul Fire Captain Steve Shapira fought fires for 17 years before he developed non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

He remembers getting the diagnosis. “That changed everything in my life,” he said.

After 28 months of chemotherapy, he is winning his battle. But the city of St. Paul, like in many firefighter cancer cases nationwide, is refusing to acknowledge his cancer is work related, preventing him from collecting worker’s compensation. He said,

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“I’m over five figures in debt as a result of my cancer care,” Captain Shapira said.

Firefighters, a University of Minnesota public health professor and Sen. Klobuchar believe a national data base of firefighter cancer cases could provide the kind of proof that could lead to better safety measures and even more worker’s comp reimbursements.

“We will move closer to having the hard data needed to demonstrate a link between firefighters exposure to toxins and fumes, and the kinds of cancers they’re developing,” Klobuchar said.

Another preventative measure is simpler — a special washing machine, known as an extractor, that washes firefighters gear.

“The machines give us the ability to really thoroughly wash the gear and get those contaminants off of our gear,” Assistant Minneapolis Fire Chief Bryan Tyner said.

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Not every fire department in the state has an extractor. That’s largely because of cost, each machine cost between $12,000 to $20,000. Klobuchar says there is bipartisan support for the bill creating a national firefighter cancer registry in Congress.

Esme Murphy