Lompoc Fire Department engineer Chris Martinez with family members. (Courtesy photo)

The Lompoc Fire Department would like to take a moment to share a personal story about one of its own.

Blue ribbon decals are displayed on fire vehicles as a show of support for Chris Martinez.

Blue ribbon decals are displayed on fire vehicles as a show of support for Chris Martinez. (Courtesy photo)

A few months ago, during the department’s annual National Firefighters Protection Association’s 1582 medical evaluations, engineer Chris Martinez was found to have an irregularity in his blood work. He was referred to his primary physician for a follow-up examination.

Martinez learned he had a cancerous mass in his colon.

The basis and goal of these department-provided medical evaluations is to provide an environment of wellness for its employees. Lompoc firefighters are grateful the department has been conducting these evaluations the past four years because it allowed Martinez to develop a past medical record.

Firefighting is a dangerous job, and over the past few years, the risk of exposure from carcinogens has been heavily researched. The information and data have caused the fire service to take a closer look at both its prevention and healthcare models.

Cancer in the fire service has become one of the leading causes of death, and firefighters are at greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer than the general population. A major component of this heightened risk is exposure to diesel particulates. The byproducts of combustion as produced by fire vehicles, fills the air around firefighters with carcinogens.

As staggering as this news is for firefighters to hear, nothing hits harder than finding out one of your co-workers has cancer.

After his diagnosis, Martinez spent the next few days meeting with physicians and family. They determined a quick and aggressive attack was the best option. Three days later, Martinez went in for surgery where doctors removed the mass and 45 lymph nodes.

Martinez not only had to deal with the pains that come with an invasive surgery, but had to prepare for the next six months of chemotherapy.

Martinez is now at the end of his therapy and just found out he can end a round early. Department members are thrilled to know he will be returning to work shortly, stronger than ever.

Typical of cancer fighters, Martinez continues to be an inspiration to his family, friends and colleagues. Those who have had cancer or know loved ones who have, continue to tell stories of strength and resilience. More often than not, they inspire and lift others up in the face of their battle. Martinez is no exception.

Through it all, he refused to quit or give up on his daily routines. When chemotherapy meant not spending a lot of time in the sun, he adjusted his morning run on the beach to 4 a.m. Often, Martinez was joined by friends and fellow firefighters.

Each of the department’s apparatus now has a blue ribbon decal on the rear, passenger-side window. Department members and colleagues are also sporting “Martinez
Strong” rubber bracelets. These small gestures are how co-workers show their love, support and commitment to Martinez’s battle.

The Lompoc Fire Department asks that the community continue praying for Martinez, his family, colleagues and friends. On behalf of the Martinez Family, the department thanks everyone for their continued support and privacy in this matter.

As the fire service continues to gather more education and awareness about the risks of repeated exposure to various carcinogens, the department has begun adopting policies that help address the issue through training and equipment decontamination.

It’s the Lompoc Fire Department’s expectation that these policies will limit the exposure of its personnel to harmful carcinogens both around the fire station and at the scene of emergencies.

The department shares the value of comprehensive medical evaluations for all firefighters through the workplace, and urges everyone to get regular checkups through their own private providers.

— Battalion Chief Brian Federmann for Lompoc Fire Department.