That’s the aim of a new tool in firefighters’ hands — their smartphone.
“Basically, a cancer exposure tracking system,” said Robert Queen, co-founder of the app Firefighter Connect, and a 33-year volunteer firefighter with the New Bern and Shanghai fire departments.
The app, Firefighter Connect, began as a way to link firefighters and stations nationwide. Now, a $120,000 grant and a partnership with the North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance looks to expand its reach.
“This is more or less a gift from the firefighters in North Carolina to the firefighters around the country,” said Travis McGaha, Concord firefighter and North Carolina Firefighter Cancer Alliance Board member.
It delivers on the alliance’s promise to provide better tracking.
“Generally, the tracking is on the back end, after cancer has already happened. There been very little ability to track leading up,” McGaha said.
The Health Exposures Analysis and Tracking component, or HEAT, gives firefighters a one-stop shop to record daily exposures.
“You’re able to enter were you on suppression, were you protecting exposures, what were your jobs, did you run the pump, what exposure did you have, how long were you in the hot zone,” Queen said.
Firefighters can also document any changes in their medical history during annual physicals.
“If each firefighter takes it upon their own to track their own exposures, to track their physicals, to track their wellness,” McGaha said.
News 13 questioned, “Could this information be shared with your physician?
“Yes, a firefighter will be able to pull their own data from their phone and create a report that they can give their physician,” Queen said.
Data entered in the app may also give researchers a resource. Personal data removed, the results are sent to a website, where researchers can access reports.
“Researchers say at a university level or higher medical levels could use that data to do some predictive analysis to see what types of cancers affect firefighters,” Queen said.
“If you are exposed to carcinogens, it means you’re doing your job as a firefighter, not that we want that exposure, but it comes with the job. But when we understand what causes the exposure, if we can reduce it, if we can avoid it in certain cases, it will go a lot further in helping us stay healthier longer,” McGaha said.
The app is set to be unveiled at the South Atlantic Fire Rescue Expo in Raleigh. It’s free in app stores and relies on firefighters being diligent about tracking their data.
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