YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – January is Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters today. Occupational cancer rates are higher than they have ever been before.

Fire Departments are encouraged to focus on what crews can do to practice safe work procedures.

Western Reserve Joint Fire District Chief Chip Comstock said fire-related cancer is underestimated.

“The number of toxins in the environment has continued to increase, and firefighters are exposed to them at an ever-increasing basis,” he said.

Comstock adds that home furnishings and contents are made differently than they were 30 or 40 years ago when they were made of natural materials and fibers.

Even though crews are fully dressed in protective gear, toxins from smoke can still reach any exposed body part. Boardman Township Chief Mark Spitzer said an equipment check is imperative.

“Make sure they are wearing their protective gear at all times. We make sure they are wearing their breathing air system SCBA throughout the entire duration of the incident, even during phases of overhaul,” Spitzer said.

And after the fire or incident is over, more care is taken with the great.

“We try not to expose our loved ones and others by washing that turnout gear that was exposed to smoke, not bringing it into areas of the fire station where people live or work,” Comstock said.

The Boardman Fire Department has a gear room with an independent ventilation system to rid of toxins safely.

Pitzer says despite the risks of the job, firefighters perform a critical service.

“This is a very dangerous job and if we don’t have firefighters willing to sacrifice themselves or their life, maybe getting cancer to save others, it’s a selfless service,’ Pitzer said.

Firefighters receive workers’ compensation for any kind of work-related illness or disease.