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Elkhart firefighter living proof the true dangers, risks of serving community

Firefighters put their lives on the line, every time they go to work. Those risks are pretty clear. But what people don't realize, are the hidden risks firefighters face.

Saturday afternoon, at Concord Junior High School, a first of event of its kind: an event focusing on raising a red flag for cancer rate among fire fighters.

As researchers learn more about chemicals, toxins, and what can and cannot protect someone from their harmful effects, firefighters are now learning their protective gear may not be so protective.

"I put in 30 years with the Elkhart Fire Department, I started in the fire service. I've definitely been exposed to things we didn't take seriously  before. And now, unfortunately, I'm an example of things that can happen," say Elkhart Fire Battalion Chief Wesley Johnson.

'Things' like non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

Johnson was diagnosed in 2016, and knows all too well that the toxins ad chemicals he was expose to, affected his life.

"We do the best we can to take precautions," he explains. "However, with evolving science, things we're finding out we're exposed to, we didn't consider toxic before, now we're finding they are."

Concord Township, and some surrounding fire departments, have had enough of the cycle. 

"Our first responders are out saving the lives of our general population and they're putting other lives," says Cindy Ell, the President and Founder of the Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation. 

She retired from the fire service a few years ago, and was fueled by the astonishing statistics she came across. 

"We are at crisis levels here in the United States for firefighter cancer issues. 

Ell knew something had to be done.

"I got tired of going to funerals, I got tired of hearing that there's nothing we can do to change our future," she adds.

Now, the Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation is working to educate. Educate firefighters, and others, just what exposure can do, and how to best protect themselves. 

"We're still losing first responders every day. An average 3-5 responders a month," explains Ell. 

But, as Johnson knows first hand, it's more than just the statistics. 

"We read about it, we see it but it does happen to our community," he says. "And I think of all the firefighters I worked with in Elkhart that have passed of cancer. How many of them were exposed on the job?

Although Saturday's event was the first event, Ell believes these baby steps can move forward to change.

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