Brian McQueen shares his story with the Not in Our House campaign.
It’s been just over three years since I’ve been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's B-Cell Lymphoma. To tell you that my life as a volunteer firefighter has changed is an understatement. My family has suffered along with me through the rigorous treatments and frequent visits to New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which reinforced my belief that every day is a gift from God.
Thanks to my wife Sarah, and my fire service family, I’m able to share my story of cancer in the fire service, to influence change to the very culture I was entrenched in. After being diagnosed, my experience has driven me to survive, and to help other firefighters do the same. This is no joke to not only firefighters, but to the loved ones we carry in our helmets.
Since my diagnosis, Sarah and I have traveled across the Northeastern U.S. educating volunteer and career firefighters to the dangers faced during fires today. Throughout my educational seminars, I have, and continue to meet, some of our bravest firefighters especially those who continue to fight the battle of cancer not knowing whether tomorrow will ever come. We listen to the most gut wrenching stories of firefighters suffering from this terrible disease, and most never realize that the job they were doing in serving their community could be the thing killing them.
My wife and I often found ourselves getting back in the car after programs and seminars, tears still welling in our eyes. It is in those moments that we realize that the educational mission we are on is worth more than our tears, it is giving those suffering a voice.
The issue of cancer in the fire service is an epidemic, and the leadership in departments, along with our elected officials, need to realize the impact cancer has on retaining qualified firefighters. It’s unacceptable that firefighters are exposed to this disease doing a job they love, serving the residents they love.
Although our National and State fire service organizations realize what an impact cancer has on their ranks, it baffles me that we are still seeing dirty helmets and gear in lockers, as well as salty looking faces in fire stations following a run.
The FCSN President, Bryan Frieders, poses the question, “Are those bugles on your collar or are they plungers?” While those are some strong words coming from a fire chief himself, they echo the need for stronger leadership who recognize the seriousness of the cancer issue and how important it is to address it with new recruits, veterans, and elected officials.
It’s time that we take a positive approach to this cancer epidemic, and enforce cancer prevention education programs in training. Cancer may not affect you today, but 12-15 years down the road when your doctor states, “you have cancer,” the outcome may not be in your best interest.
Learn more about firefighter cancer, and sign a pledge of safety with the Not in Our House campaign here.