Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on November 1, 2017.

All Hazards Considered

Health, hurricanes, and heroin dominate discussion at the 2017 Urban Fire Forum


A profound cultural change is needed to make cancer awareness a requirement for those entering the fire service, as well as for firefighting veterans.

Related Content

Read the UFF position statements.

Read the NFPA Journal story on firefighter cancer, "Facing Cancer."

Read the NFPA Journal story on the opioid crisis, "Chasing a Killer."

Read "Threat Prep," the NFPA Journal story on the development of NFPA 3000.

That was one of the top issues to emerge at the 2017 NFPA Urban Fire Forum (UFF), a group of fire chiefs from large cities across the country that met at NFPA headquarters in September.

Two of the four position statements endorsed by attendees centered on firefighter occupational cancer and exposure to toxins, while the others dealt with responding to hostile events and the opioid crisis. The two-day event also featured presentations on hurricanes Harvey and Irma and the deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London.

The actions taken at the UFF represent the urgency behind the firefighter cancer and contaminant exposure issues, said Ken Willette, NFPA first responder segment director. “Responding to a structure fire today is responding to a toxic soup of contaminants that will follow firefighters home to their families, and requires the entire fire service to join in to confront this challenge,” he said.

NFPA is working to address those issues through codes, standards, and training, while the Fire Protection Research Foundation continues to work on studies in these areas.

The UFF position statement on firefighter cancer awareness, education, and prevention recommends that “education should be enhanced across every level of the fire service and include legislation efforts, references within standards, and coverage in all applicable firefighting textbooks.” The statement also says that “ensuring that our current and future firefighters know how to protect themselves and their families from occupational cancer is as important as teaching them the science of fire behavior and firefighting tactics.”

Similarly, the UFF position statement on implementing exposure prevention and decontamination programs recommends bolstering education and awareness around firefighter occupational exposure to dangerous chemicals, and steps to properly rid the body and PPE of those chemicals, which can cause a number of cancers.


Late additions to the UFF agenda included presentations from Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña and Miami-Dade Fire Chief David Downey, who spoke about hurricanes Harvey and Irma that tore through their cities just weeks before the meeting.

While both chiefs indicated preparation is key for successfully responding to extreme weather events, Peña acknowledged that his department was caught off guard by the unprecedented rainfall and flooding that occurred in Houston. The storm, which swirled over America’s fourth-largest city for about a week, dumped more than 50 inches of rain on parts of Houston, and decisions to protect dams from failing caused water to wash over parts of the city that had never before flooded.

Representatives from the United Kingdom fire service were also on hand to discuss their country’s experience dealing with the problem of combustible exterior wall assemblies following the June fire that destroyed the Grenfell Tower apartment building in London, killing 80 people. Also presenting was Otto Drozd, chief of Orange County, Florida, Fire and Rescue, who responded to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016 and set in motion the process to develop NFPA 3000, Preparedness and Response to Active Shooter and/or Hostile Events.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Newscom