GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (WCIV) — The Goose Creek Fire Department lost one of its own in October of 2017. Robby Brannon died after a four month battle with Stage 4 metastatic melanoma.
“He was a fireman for 25 years,” said his widow, Kayla. “He comes into contact with all kinds of different materials and things, house fires, car wrecks and different things like that.”
When the couple heard the diagnosis, Kayla said their first thought was that the illness was job-related.
Still, she admits that throughout her husband’s career she never considered the unseen, unknown risk of his job—cancer.
“I didn't know firefighter cancer was so prevalent nowadays,” she said. “You know mostly with firemen you think they're there to save their city and protect people, and make sure everybody is ok. Save people's houses and from car accidents. You don't necessarily think of the daily risk that they encounter.”
The Brannon’s aren’t alone.
The International Association of Firefighters now ranks cancer as the leading cause of death among firefighters.
“Firemen are about 39 percent more likely to get cancer than any other person,” Brannon recalled of the statistics she’s become very familiar with.
Brannon’s death marks the second firefighter within the same department to battle cancer.
The department now requires full body scans in addition to yearly physicals to promote early detection, according to Goose Creek Fire Chief Steve Chapman.
“The products of combustion are very dangerous and are proven to have many carcinogens in them,” he said. “Over a typical career of a firefighters those things build up.”
Now, GCFD will receive Responder Wipes from the Carney Strong Foundation to help keep the first responders safe from on-the-job carcinogens.
“They can be used when they come back,” said Chapman. “They can used on scene to immediately decontaminate yourself after you come out of a fire to get that buildup of smoke, soot and other carcinogens off of the body.”
The department will receive enough wipes and decontamination cleaning products to last a year.
It’s all thanks to Kayla Brannon’s efforts in memory of her husband.
“It means the world to me that they are honoring him and giving something to his department so that these guys can continue to be safe,” she said.
The Carney Strong Foundation is named for Josh Carney, the former Battalion Chief with Midway Fire Rescue in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina.
Carney was diagnosed with the same cancer as Brannon about a week before Brannon’s diagnosis. He died three days after Brannon.
Carney’s widow, Lillian, and Kayla connected over the similar stories and have made it their mission to educate the public about firefighter occupational cancer.
The Responder Wipes will be donated to the GCFD in late May or June.
The department, and others, can nominate other fire stations to receive the wipes by clicking here.