Plum Eagle Scout hopeful determined to raise cancer awareness and prevention for firefighters
Holiday Park junior firefighter Dylan Sutton hopes his Eagle Scout project will reduce the risk of his comrades getting a potentially deadly disease.
The Boy Scout from Troop 854 in Oakmont started collecting monetary donations and various items designed to help firefighters decontaminate after responding to a fire call in an attempt to curb their cancer risk.
“Cancer is much like a blazing fire,” said Dylan, 16. “It can devastate people's lives. ... Having people go into a fire, coming out and being able to change into new clothes and wipe down will help them not have to worry about soot on their skin.”
A multiyear study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health determined firefighters have a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths than the general population. The study found evidence that firefighters are at increased risk for certain types of cancers, such as lung and leukemia, as a result of occupational exposure.
Soot, a byproduct of incomplete burning of organic materials such as wood, fuel, oil, plastics and household refuse, will stay on firefighter equipment and skin unless properly cleaned off. The fine black or brown powder can contain multiple carcinogens, including arsenic, cadmium and chromium.
To help firefighters clean soot from their gear, Dylan is collecting soaps, shampoos, cleaning supplies and other materials on his Amazon wish list . Dylan has been a member of the volunteer fire department for eight months.
“I want to be a firefighter because I love helping the people in my community,” he said. “It's always been a dream of mine.”
Dylan will be collecting from 7-9 p.m. Tuesdays and 5-10 p.m. Thursdays at the station, 415 Abers Creek Road.
His family also is planning a carnival Sept. 8 at the station to help raise funds. Monetary donations will be used to have firefighting gear professionally cleaned.
His goal is to raise a $11,500 combined worth of cash and materials by the end of October. Dylan's project also includes building shelves in the station's gear room.
Holiday Park fire Chief Jim Sims commended Dylan for coming up with the project.
“We stand behind him 100 percent,” Sims said. “We want to make sure he succeeds in his project. He's set himself an aggressive goal. It's exciting. I'm glad he's doing it. We're trying to help the best we can.”
The department instituted a cancer awareness and prevention program in May. Each firefighter has two sets of gear and goes through a decontamination protocol when dealing with an emergency involving heavy smoke.
They also do what Sims called “exposure reporting” to keep a record of what they come in contact with and when.
“We can see what the studies are now showing, the effects of cancer on firefighters,” said Sims. “We've experienced that firsthand.”
Two former Holiday Park officials, Chief Larry Glass and President Rick Borgoyne, died from cancer within the past few years.
Glass passed away Jan. 24, 2015. He joined Holiday Park as a junior firefighter in 1974. He also joined Monroeville Fire Co. No. 4 in 1977 and served both departments until 1982. He rejoined the Plum department in February 2000 after being a firefighter and medic in Florida, and was Holiday Park's chief for 11 years until his passing. Glass was 55.
Borgoyne was a member of the Plum fire department for 33 years and also served at Monroeville Fire Co. No. 6 for 14 years. He died Sept. 10, 2016, at 57.
The NIOSH study of nearly 30,000 firefighters from Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco was completed in 2015. Its findings are available online at bit.ly/2jwsHDK.
Dylan said several of his grandparents also died from cancer, and he is very passionate about preventing it.
His monetary collection incentives include different levels of donation tags from $1 to $1,000.
They feature the station's patch, fire and rescue axes, boots, hoses and other pictures all with a different message about fighting cancer.
The $15 tags show a flashlight with the words “Lighting the way for firefighter cancer prevention.”
He also has a GoFundMe page set up for online donations.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2367, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @MikeJdiVittorio.