San Francisco Firefighters urge action on increased risk of bladder cancer

With hundreds of pairs of empty firefighter’s boots, helmets, and tri-folded American flags lining the steps of San Francisco’s city hall as a backdrop, about 300 active and retired firefighters honored their fallen members who lost their lives to cancer and called for action to increase awareness of the silent death of firefighters from job related cancers.

The firefighters gathered to announce the establishment of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation, a non-profit organization that is leading a campaign to bring awareness to the increased risk that firefighters have of getting cancer. The Foundation is dedicated to educating San Francisco firefighters, whether active or retired, about the prevention and early detection of cancer. Firefighters Union Local 798 provided a $100,000 contribution to the foundation.

The founder and Chairman of the Board of the Foundation, Captain Tony Stefani a retired San Francisco firefighter and cancer survivor said, “We don’t have an organization dedicated to solving the increased incidence of cancer and the impact it’s taking on the lives of our retired firefighters, and those still on the job. One of our immediate goals is early detection and making sure that those who are diagnosed with cancer get the quality care and the support they have earned through their service to their community.”

Captain (Ret.) Stefani added, “In a partnership with UCSF Medical Center and funding from the city, the SFFD has begun providing free bladder cancer screening to all its current and retired firefighters. It’s a voluntary program at this time, but we’ve already had about 1,000 people lining up to take the NMP22 BladderChek urine test – and we’re just beginning. We hope that we can build on the success of this program and launch screening programs for other cancers for which we are at-risk.”

Tom O’Conner, President of the Foundation and a Lieutenant in the SFFD said, “As firefighters we risk our lives each day as part of our job. Now there is research that reports we have a higher risk than most people to get cancer. We need to know the potential health hazards of simply reporting for duty so we can be able to do something about it.”

Mayor Gavin Newsome stood with the firefighters and spoke of the commitment by his administration to provide the funding for bladder cancer screening for all firefighters and retirees. The Mayor also recognized the efforts of everyone involved.

The bladder cancer screening program is the result of the efforts of Captain (Ret.) Stefani, Dr. Marshall Stoller, professor and Vice Chairman, Department of Urology, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine and urologist at the UCSF Medical Center and his colleague Dr. Kirsten Greene. For the last year and a half, they worked with the SFFD administration with the approval of Chief Hayes-White. Deputy Chief Gary Massetani directs the bladder cancer screening program for the SFFD and secured city funding for the project.

Dr. Stoller and Dr. Greene are reviewing the bladder cancer screening results from the NMP22 BladderChek Test and providing follow-up and further evaluation for any firefighter who may have a positive test result. As part of a long-term study, they have also administered cancer questionnaires to the firefighters to determine the incidence of other job related cancers among the San Francisco firefighters. More than 1,000 questionnaires have been completed by those on active duty and retirees.

Dr. Stoller explained, “We began screening for bladder cancer because it was apparent that there were a number of our local firefighters diagnosed with the disease – I have treated many of them. Firefighters are likely at a higher risk for bladder cancer than most people. And the tests that we could use in our initial screening, a dipstick test to assess for microscopic blood in the urine and the NMP22 test for bladder cancer are easy and inexpensive. The NMP22 test for bladder cancer is a urine test and results are available on the spot.”

Dr. Greene added, “Our long term goal is to evaluate how many of our firefighters are getting cancer and what type of cancer. The research is important to assess the health hazards these people face in the line of duty, so we can do more to eliminate their risk.”

A poignant moment driving home the message for the firefighters assembled, was the remembrance of their comrade, Larry Murray who died of bladder cancer. He was the driver of Engine 3 the busiest engine company in the city. Larry stood at the pump panel many hours throughout his career inhaling diesel fumes while pumping water to firefighters. One of the pairs of empty boots was for Larry who didn’t die a heroic death in a fire, but silently – and as a hero dedicated to saving others.

About the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation

The San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation was incorporated in March of 2007 as a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering the prevention and early detection of cancer occurring in firefighters through proven scientific research and education. Initial funding for the organization was provided by a $100,000 donation from the San Francisco firefighters union Local 798. Tony Stefani, a retired Captain with the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) and cancer survivor is the founder and Chairman of the Foundation.

Other officers and board members include:

President: Tom O’Conner, Lieutenant SFFD and Treasurer of Local 798

Vice President: Jeff Malone, retired firefighter and cancer survivor

Secretary: Joe Moriarity, retired battalion Chief SFFD, and Vice President of Local 798

Treasurer: Kieth Onishi, firefighter SFFD and member of Christy Yamaguchi’s foundation


John Hanley, Captain SFFD and President of Local 798

Karen Heald Esq., Lieutenant SFFD

Sherman Tillman, firefighter SFFD, Shop Steward Station 13

Dr. Marshall Stoller, urologist, professor and Vice Chairman, Department of Urology, UCSF School of Medicine and UCSF Medical Center

Dr. Kirsten Greene, urologist Department of Urology, UCSF Medical Center

See Related: HEALTH CARE

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