VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Safety has always been a priority for the Virginia Beach Fire Department. After the death of their beloved Captain Matt Chiaverotti to cancer last month, the battle for prevention has only gotten more fierce.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer. Their job exposes them to toxic chemicals and other contaminants.
Later this month, the department will become the second fire service in Hampton Roads to participate in early-detection cancer screening.
Firefighters will roll up their sleeves for a blood draw in order to detect 50 different types of cancer long before symptoms appear. The test by Galleri is a first-of-its-kind multi-cancer detection screening.
"There's really no adverse effect from the test, there's no radiation exposure. It's not invasive," Dr. Tony Cetrone with Bayview Physicians Group said.
The results come in two weeks.
Chesapeake Lt. Brian Atkins has already been screened. He sees the test as a technological advantage his firefighter dad and granddad didn't get.
"It's very important, not just today," Atkins said. "It gives us confidence that what we do out in the field, we're being protected."
With cancer being the leading cause of death among firefighters, prevention has become a nationwide call to action. The CDC just launched a National Firefighter Registry for Cancer. It's the largest effort undertaken by the nation to support and advance understanding of cancer in the fire service.
It was created as the result of the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act in 2018, which directed the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to develop a registry to study cancer among firefighters.
All U.S. firefighters are being encouraged to join through a voluntary online enrollment system.
"I actually just completed my survey yesterday for that," Virginia Beach's Professional Firefighters Association President Max Gonano said.
He is continuing the work he and Chiaverotti fought so hard for, adding more cancers to the list of presumptive cancer for firefighters to qualify for compensation benefits.
In the 2023 General Assembly session, lawmakers passed legislation adding thyroid and bladder cancers to the list.
"We're not there yet. We're still gathering information, making our case and getting that data to the decision-makers to make sure that gets done," Gonano said.