Firefighters are more at risk for cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder than the general population, according to a report released Tuesday by the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The IAFF report says researchers at the Warrior Research Institute in Austin, Texas, have identified a clear link between traumatic situations experienced by firefighters and paramedics — from car accidents to mass-casualty incidents — and PTSD.

PTSD can be 100 percent disabling, according to Suzi Byrd Gulliver, a psychologist with the Warrior Research Institute, who has been studying PTSD for many years. The IAFF notes that the Journal of Occupational Health found that 20 percent of firefighters and paramedics suffer from PTSD, compared to 3.5 percent of the general population.

The IAFF report also says the risk of cancer is “significantly higher for firefighters than the general population” because when fighting fires they are apt to come into contact with synthetic materials such as plastics, foam and coatings that contain carcinogens.

The report cites a 2013 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that found firefighters have a 14 percent increased risk of dying from cancer when compared with the general population.

“Our communities and their legislators need to understand how PTSD and cancer are impacting their firefighters over the course of a long and dedicated career protecting the public,” IAFF president Harold Schaitberger said in a prepared statement. “New advanced protocols are needed to help prevent PTSD and cancer from taking hold, and more elected officials need to step up and support laws that help firefighters afflicted with these hidden hazards.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1272,

Kevin Cole covers Omaha crime and public safety news. Follow him on Twitter @KevinColeOmaha. Phone: 402-444-1272.

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