HOUSTON (FOX 26) - When those charged with fighting fire respond, they are threatened by more than inferno.
The plastics, the chemicals and the insulation within incinerated buildings change form, draping first responders time and time again in toxic particulates.
Houston firefighter Mark Herring is convinced repeated exposure triggered his Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and kidney cancer.
"There’s a lot of us. There are three of us firefighters at my station alone. They are either battling cancer right now or who have gone through cancer," said Herring.
"We know that cancer has become an epidemic in the fire service," said Houston's Fire Chief Sam Pena.
Pena says his first responders are being equipped with post-fire decontamination kits to remove cancer causing material from their gear.
In addition, HFD has begun the gradual installation of commercial washers to "deep clean" turnouts and diesel exhaust removal systems to expel cancer causing fumes from its stations.
"It's not new technology. It’s been in place and been around some of it 10, 15, 20 years. Here at the Houston Fire Department, we have lacked in investment in that respect, but we have to start doing something different," said Pena.
It's potentially health-preserving measures that didn't come soon enough to protect Mark Herring and many others who spent their lives running into fires and never away.
"Things that could have been done years ago were never done by the Houston Fire department and they might be saying they are doing things now, but it's a little too late. We've already lost firefighters to this," said Herring.
Pena says the scientific evidence is solid and undisputed with more than 60 percent of occupational deaths in the fire service now attributed to cancer triggered by on the job exposure.