Ray Ellis

When cancer is a job hazard

Because of smoke inhalation and exposure to toxic chemicals, I live with the fear of cancer virtually every day.

“In my job, we’re faced with a lot of dangers. People see us running into burning buildings, but it’s more than that,” says Ray Ellis, Deputy Chief of the Belleville, ON Fire Department. “There are a lot of hazardous zones and because of that, we’re prone to cancer.”

The amount of toxins firefighters are exposed to has increased exponentially in recent years. Twenty-five years ago, the average fire burned at 9,000 British Thermal Unit (BTUs), a heat energy measurement. Today, fires burn at 32,000 BTUs, because of the increased presence of synthetic materials and foams.

 “We’re protected, but the smoke gets to us,” says Ray. “It’s one of the hazards of the job.”

Ray has known many firefighters who have lost their lives to cancer.

“We call ourselves brothers, and that’s what we are,” he says. “We live together, eat together, sleep together, so it hits home. I’ve lost quite a few brothers to cancer. Because of smoke inhalation and exposure to toxic chemicals, I live with the fear of cancer virtually every day.”

In response, Ray has been motivated to bring public attention to the cancer risk faced by firefighters. He participates regularly in Society fundraisers to raise awareness. In 2005, he made a solo bicycle ride from Belleville to Edmonton. With that ride, and others, including a 24-hour Spin-a-Thon, he has raised $80,000 for the Society.

“The Canadian Cancer Society has done so much good work,” he says. “People are living longer and better because of the Society.”

The dedication of individuals like Ray has helped the Society fund life-saving research, support programs in local communities and advocacy that helps all people on a cancer journey. Money raised during Daffodil Month will help ensure that patients and their families continue to get the support they need.

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