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Tempe Fire to receive thousands of dollars to screen for cancer

Nearly $800,000 in federal and city funds will be used to detect cancer early in firefighters to prevent occupational cancer deaths.

TEMPE, Ariz. — Nearly $800,000 in federal and local dollars are on the way to help members of the Tempe Fire Department screen for the early stages of cancer.

Earlier this year, the city was awarded more than $700,000 from a federal U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant.

Thursday, the Tempe City Council approved using nearly $71,000 from the general fund to help the program.

The move comes as line-of-duty deaths among firefighters are increasing across the country.

According to the International Association of Firefighters, in 2022, nearly 350 firefighters died from occupational cancer.

“We know that we’re exposed to things that are dangerous on a daily basis,” said Deputy Chief Kyle Carman.

“We’re being exposed to fumes and other toxins that linger, get into our skin, and build up for some years,” Carman added.

In 2019, Carman led the department’s efforts of early cancer detection, inspired by Tommy Arriaga.

Arriaga, who was a six-year veteran of the department, died from colorectal cancer at the age of 36 in March of 2020.

“That cancer was preventable,” said Carman.

In 2019, the department received just over $330,000 in federal dollars to help with cancer screenings.

The money helped detect kidney cancer in a 20-year veteran of the department.

“It was a golf ball sitting on his kidney and he had no idea. Instead of planning for an in-line death, we helped him get back to work in months.”

With nearly three times the dollars, Carman said over the next two years, the department’s nearly 200 members will all get blood screenings.

He said the money will also help with screenings using full-body scanners and MRIs. Various forms of cancer from breast, colon, and others will also be screened.

Carman said he’s hoping to put a bigger emphasis on members into middle-aged and even younger members, and those with pre-existing conditions.

He’s hoping with the effort, more lives will be saved. It’s something he said would make Arriaga proud.

“His legacy is going to live on through these cancer screenings,” he added

Carman said he hopes the cancer screenings will become part of the firefighter’s annual physicals.

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