Last Updated on May 17, 2023 by Luke Feldbrugge
Firefighter Cancer Support Network is dedicated to providing support to firefighters and their families. The Homes for Heroes Foundation awarded the organization a $25,000 hero grant to assist in their mission to support our firefighters.
This Homes for Heroes Foundation grant is part of the Homes for Heroes Circle of Giving, providing assistance for heroes in dire need across the country.
Firefighter Cancer Support Network’s Interview with Jay Flynn
Homes for Heroes Outreach Coordinator, Jay Flynn, talks to Scott Jennie, the California state director and national state director for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. The organization was nominated for the grant by Amanda Aviles, a Homes for Heroes real estate specialist. You can watch the full interview here or read the transcript of the interview below.
Jay: Hello thanks for joining us today. I’m Jay Flynn, Homes for Heroes Outreach Coordinator, and I’m joined today by, Scott Jennie. He’s the California State Director and National State Director for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. I’ve also got, Amanda Aviles, Homes for Heroes real estate specialist. Welcome guys.
Thanks for joining me today. As part of the Home to Heroes Circle of Giving, The Homes for Heroes Foundation provides grants to nonprofits whose missions are to help our heroes in need. I’m so honored to announce that the Firefighter Cancer Support Network is the Homes for Heroes Foundation, May 2023 Grant recipient Scott, Amanda, and I are honored to present the Firefighter Cancer Support Network with this Homes for Heroes Foundation grant of $25,000.
Scott: Thank you so much. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this. This money is going to go to do great things to support firefighters and their family members who are diagnosed with cancer.
Jay: We certainly owe our gratitude to all of our fire service heroes. And I sincerely hope that this foundation grant helps the Firefighter Cancer Support Network serve firefighters all across our nation. So, guys, let’s take a few minutes and talk about the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and its mission. So first off, Amanda, tell us a little bit about who you are so our audience can get to know you.
Amanda: Hi, my name is Amanda Aviles and I’ve been working as a realtor for about four to five years now. I’ve been involved with Homes for Heroes for the past three years, and I joined this organization because it aligned with my values and personal connections. My significant other is a law enforcement officer, and I have an uncle who is a captain in the fire department. Many friends and family members work as nurses and educators.
Working with Homes for Heroes allows me to give back to my community and support those who are important to me. I strive to make a positive impact on a daily basis through my work with real estate and my involvement with the Homes for Heroes Foundation, which helps provide resources for various non-profit organizations.
Jay: That’s fantastic. It seems like you have connections to all the hero groups that Homes for Heroes serves. That’s amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Scott?
Scott: Hi, I’m Scott Jennie and I am the California State Director and National State Director for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. I’ve been volunteering for the network for about five years and became more involved after seeing many of my colleagues and friends being diagnosed with–or passing away from–occupational cancer. I was a firefighter for 35 years and retired as a fire captain.
The Firefighter Cancer Support Network’s mission is to provide support to firefighters and their families when they are diagnosed with cancer. We also offer free awareness education to any agency that requests it. Our vision is to be the global leader in education and support for this cause. We also promote Firefighter Cancer Awareness Month every January and encourage fire departments to participate.
Jay: That’s great to hear. Amanda, you nominated the Firefighter Cancer Support Network for the Homes for Heroes Foundation grant. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to do so?
Amanda: Yes, as I mentioned earlier, firefighter organizations hold a special place in my heart because of my personal connections. I have family members and close friends who work in local fire departments in Southern California. These heroes sacrifice so much and are exposed to a higher risk of cancer due to their work environment.
A local firefighter friend over here in La Habra’s Station 193, Leyth Dauod, introduced me to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and explained the benefits of this non-profit and their need for resources, especially during the pandemic. I knew immediately that I wanted to nominate them, and we are so grateful to have made this happen.
Jay: That’s amazing. Scott, we know that firefighter cancer is becoming more prevalent than heart disease. Can you share some insights about this issue and what programs the Firefighter Cancer Support Network has in place to help prevent it?
Scott: Yes, while heart disease used to be the number one cause of death for firefighters, occupational cancer has now surpassed it. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to track occupational or metabolic diseases in the fire service, but the International Association of Firefighters has been tracking metabolic diseases such as cancer since 2002.
The rates have gone up substantially since then, and in 2022, 75% of the line of duty deaths reported to the IAFF were from occupational cancer. Our fire environment has changed with more man-made materials, synthetics, and flame retardants, causing fires to burn hotter, faster, and more toxic.
We promote awareness and education along with supporting firefighters to mitigate their exposures to known carcinogens. We offer free education to every fire department or agency that requests it, as well as a signature toolbox, which is a wealth of resources that are sent to firefighters who ask for help.
Jay: Absolutely. We know that prevention is so important. What programs does the firefighter network have to help firefighters in the prevention of these occupational cancers?
Scott: We have a few ways. Like I said before, we offer free education to every fire department or any agency that asks for us to come present to them. We also present at all the major conferences around the nation and up into Canada as well. This is not just a United States problem. This is a worldwide fire service problem, which has been proven scientifically.
Some of the resources we do give to firefighters is what we call a signature toolbox. Everything we do is free of charge. We’re all volunteers. And we’re represented in all 50 states and like I said, up into Canada. But we offer what’s called a signature toolbox. That toolbox is a wealth of resources that are sent to a firefighter when they ask for help.
Inside that box is a number of items to help guide them and shepherd them through this whole process. From treatment to recovery, hopefully it will guide them all every step of the way. Firefighters are not really good, as you know Jay, at asking for help, because we’re used to providing help. We don’t ask our neighbors for a lot of help.
We try to do everything ourselves. Jay will probably get a chuckle out of this one. When we sit at the coffee table across from another firefighter, we’ll solve every problem in the world, right? Because we speak the same language. Our founder, Mike Dubron, when he created this organization in the L.A. County Fire Department in 2005, said we need to talk about this.
One of those ways was to create a mentorship. We recruit firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer, and they become mentors for us. If someone is diagnosed with cancer and they reach out to us, we offer that free of charge. A mentor guides them from diagnosis, treatment, and hopefully into remission. It is a badge to badge support system.
They call them periodically. Our motto is “No one fights alone and together we can make a difference.” That’s the purpose of the mentor program. The mentor guides them through this whole process and gives that firefighter and their family members psychological support. It’s kind of a badge-to-badge peer support system.
Jay: Awesome. Scott, I know we hear a lot in the news. You see commercials about the PFOS and AFFF Foam. But that’s not just related to firefighting foam. Tell us what firefighters should know about PFOS and how it’s important to them.
Scott: Most importantly PFOS is all around us. It can be in the carpet below our feet. It can be in the materials around us. It could be in our cooking pans. It’s in the wrappers when you go get your food from a restaurant. Most agencies have gone away from that AFFF foam and the military has gone away from that because they did find PFOS.
PFOS is a forever chemical that is a Group One carcinogen and does cause a number of cancers. But more importantly, there was a researcher from Notre Dame who recently did a study that identified PFOS in our PPE. It’s in all three layers of our PPE.
So we as firefighters need to be aware of that, and we need to take the steps to protect ourselves from handling that, not wearing turnouts when we don’t have to. A lot of firefighters wonder if I’m going to wear my protective gear, am I going to get cancer? I don’t know the answer to that question specifically.
But if you take the steps to protect yourself: washing your hands, handling it with medical gloves, not carrying dirty contaminated gear in your cab and things of that nature. It’s about the totality of the occupational cancer problem. It goes from everything we’re exposed to–from carcinogens, from fire, from smoke, from benzene, from diesel exhaust, from PFOS in our PPE.
We just need to take the steps to protect ourselves. And there are very simple steps. Like I said, washing, showering within the hour, packing up our PPE when we’re not using it, things of that nature. We just need to be aware that it’s there. And we do know that the IAFF and the gear manufacturers are working on a solution now to come up with a PFOS-free product.
Jay: That’s awesome. It is promising here that there are some simple steps that can be taken that will make a true difference for sure.
Jay: All right, Scott, big question: $25,000 Homes for Heroes Foundation grant to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. How’s that money going to be used to help support our nation’s firefighters?
Scott: Well, first and foremost, we are absolutely humbled and appreciative to accept this. Amanda and Jay, your organization is fantastic. This money will go to great use. What will it be used for? We will build more toolboxes and be able to help improve our education for agencies that need it. That way, firefighters are still getting these resources free of charge. That’s what we will do with this money. We will build more support and more resources into our program to help firefighters and their family members in need.
Jay: All of that is amazing. Everything that you and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network are doing is surely making a powerful impact. Amanda, wow, what a great group to nominate. Scott, take a minute and share with our audience how they can get involved in supporting your mission. Where they can go to learn more about the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.
Scott: Well, you know, ideally, if any firefighter or their family member is diagnosed with cancer, they can go directly to our website. They can click “I need help” and that will take them to a page with links for all 50 states where they can reach out. It just takes one click, fill out the form, which is super simple.
Within 24 hours, we’re in contact with you. The state director will reach out. We’re here to support these firefighters and to support their family members if they’re diagnosed. If they want to know more about our organization, our website has a number of resources that describes the scope of the problem and the steps firefighters can take to protect themselves and mitigate their exposures to cancer causing carcinogens.
The Firefighter Cancer Support Network is a great resource for any firefighter or anybody that wants to help or donate. We’re here for you.
Jay: Awesome. Amanda, anything you would like to add?
Amanda: Not at this time. Just hearing Scott speak about this, it’s just indescribable for me. You hear a little bit about the program and you think, “That’s a great nonprofit to nominate.” Then you get down to the nitty gritty of the turnouts that you guys are wearing and the products that you guys are exposed to on a daily basis.
It brings some tears. It also brings joy to my heart to be able to have the grant awarded to you guys. It makes me a little bit more aware of the things that you guys really deal with on a daily basis. And I’m so grateful to everybody in the fire department and I appreciate Homes for Heroes being able to put this together.
I’m just here to facilitate, and I’m here to try to do what I can. This was heartfelt for sure. I’m grateful for being able to be a part of it.
Jay: Thank you for serving the heroes that are in your community. Scott, Amanda, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today. And thank you for everything that you’re doing to help support our fire service heroes. To our audience, thank you for taking time out to join us and hear more about the great work that the Firefighter Cancer Support Network is doing.
To show some support, give us a like on the video, leave us a comment, give it a share. Most importantly, tune in to future episodes and learn more about all the wonderful nonprofits that Homes for Heroes Foundation partners with. Our mission is to help those heroes. Until next time, take time to thank them in your day-to-day life.
Homes for Heroes
Grants from the Homes for Heroes Foundation are made possible by the Homes for Heroes Circle of Giving and its network of real estate professionals. These professionals are committed to providing savings to groups, such as firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement, military, active and veterans, health care professionals and teachers. Thank you for watching another Homes for Heroes Foundation grant video about the impact we are making in the hero community with our nonprofit partners.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the whole series on our YouTube channel. You can learn more about the savings available to Heroes through Homes for Heroes, or you can learn more about how the Homes for Heroes Foundation is helping Heroes in dire need. Visit Homes for Heroes or simply to make a donation.