U of Miami Researchers observe Palm Beach County firefighters on - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

U of Miami Researchers observe Palm Beach County firefighters on day one of major cancer study

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Call it a complete role reversal. The men and women used to asking the important safety questions on a scene are now on the other side of the inquiry at Palm Beach County Fire Rescue.

Captain Bob Kropa says when he got into this 12 years ago, even he never saw this coming.

Now he's joining in on the fight for answers.

“A lot of our guys in this department are coming down with cancer,” Kropa says. “What's going on here?”

Researchers with the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center are diving deep into the lives of firefighters.

Monday was day one of the research project, which looks to get inside both their gear - and their minds.

WPTV first told you last week about this unprecedented study with the University of Miami.

“Part of this shadowing experience is so the firefighters can teach us what they go through to figure out how we can develop short and long term projects to address this cancer risk,” says Dr. Alberto Caban-Martinez, with the Miller School of Medicine at UM.

National studies show cancer affects firefighters at higher rates than the general public.

Part of the research is physical, taking a look at gear with some of the latest gadgets.

“We’ll be testing out different pieces of technology that they can wear on their person and see if they might be exposed to some carcinogenic compounds,” Caban-Martinez says.

Some of the research will be mental as well.

Interviews and surveys will provide a deeper dive into a culture Kropa says needs a second look.

“It looks cool to have dirty gear, and you're an old salty veteran and all that stuff, but it's not the best way,” Captain Kropa says.

Kropa says the work done here could save more lives - and maybe one day, his own.

The state of Florida is putting nearly 1 million dollars into the study.

Researchers say they will be in our area constantly for hours at a time.

They'll even do ride-alongs with the firefighters as they head out to calls so they can observe behaviors.

They're hoping to eventually expand the project to departments nationwide.

Copyright 2015 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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