Mayor Cathy Carlat

Mayor Cathy Carlat

The Peoria Fire-Medical Department, the Peoria City Council and Human Resources Director Christine Nickel are piloting a cancer screening program for line-of-duty firefighters. 

The program would allow all firefighters to receive an initial screening to determine their risk level. Based on the risk factors, the firefighters with the highest risk would be included into the program as a participant and the screenings would begin. 

The data from the screenings and treatments will be collected and reported to the council to ensure efficacy of the program. 

“For a long time, firefighters have always known that they are going to have a shorter lifespan than other professions,” Mayor Cathy Carlat said. “If it doesn’t have to be that way, then we certainly want to do everything that we can so that it isn’t that way.”

Cancer is the leading cause of death for line-of-duty firefighters. The program is designed to take a preventative approach.

“(The department) has been focused on mitigating the risks through early detection and treatment,” Nickel said. 

“This is a multifaceted approach designed to get the best results. They will be eligible to receive screenings that may not be ordered by a doctor or may not be ordered until a later time in life.”

Cancer screenings are not typically ordered by medical doctors unless symptoms are present or age requirements have been met. 

“Under this program, after the risk assessment, we will know if the firefighters need that type of screening, and if they do it will be approved regardless of the age. The screenings will be individually based on the risk factors,” Nickel said.

Nickel added that other fire departments have started looking at similar initiatives. Peoria is piloting the screening program. 

“The city of Peoria will be one of the first to implement this type of program,” Nickel said. “We’re currently in the process of finalizing details with the fire-medical department and the city’s health insurance broker to iron out all of the details with the providers. The city first began exploring this program in 2019 in response to the nationwide issue.”

Cancer caused 66% of the career firefighter line-of-duty deaths from 2002 to 2019, according to data from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Heart disease caused 18% of career LODDs for the same period.

Screenings for cancer can often range from $300 to $10,000, and even when the genomic testing is covered with health insurance, it may still require high out-of-pocket costs, according to cancer.org

“Employees will receive the screenings at no cost,” Nickel said.

The program’s goals in tackling prevention are centered around extending the lifespan in line-of-duty firefighters where possible. 

“I am really excited to work on the program and hopefully make a big difference,” Nickel said. “The possibility and potential for longer and healthier lives is the ultimate goal."