Community Activist: Adam Villard Preaches Better Practices I was that guy in the department who had the dirtiest helmet, the dirtiest gear and I was proud of it,” says Adam Villard, union president and Fire Fighter EMT for Spokane County Fire District 8. Villard admits he wore his ash-clad gear until he was instructed to clean it by his chief. However, in 2012, he went to a class hosted by the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and heard Washington State network director Eric Monroe speak about dirty gear and absorption through the skin. “He spoke about how if you don’t shower and clean yourself after a fire, that exposure is in your system for a longer period of time,” Villard says. “He opened my eyes—opened them enough to change my ways. I went back to the station and cleaned my gear and thought to myself that I might have dodged a bullet.” With a history of kidney stones and a specialist he visited regularly, Villard went in for a somewhat routine ultrasound shortly after he attended the cancer support class. His doctor found a mass on his left kidney and planned for him to monitor it on an annual basis. A few months after that first one-year mark, Villard developed another kidney stone and went to see his specialist who recommended doing an MRI. The mass was later diagnosed as left renal cell carcinoma. In May of 2014, Villard had the upper back slope of his left kidney removed, totaling as a third of the organ. “The doctor says this would have gone asymptomatic for years but when they become symptomatic, we got real problems,” Villard says. “I started doing research and all the guys from on the job that passed away from kidney cancer were 46- or 47-years-old, which would have put me right in that range.” Villard brought his investigation to his doctor and asked if he thought it was a result of his job. “He said he didn’t have enough research but that it was probable and I was awfully young to get this,” Villard remembers. “I said that was kind of my point.” He showed the specialist the RCW presumptive cancer list and the science backing from IAFF resident oncologists specifically on carcinogens and kidney cancer. “He read it and filled out the paperwork saying it was more probable than not that the job causes cancer,” he says. For a small department like his, Villard’s diagnosis had a colossal impact on the practices in place—so much that policy changes were made and the department purchased additional turnout extractors to clean gear properly at all four stations. “They are doing the best they can to limit the problem,” Villard says. “I think the industry is coming around more and more as more tragic events and diagnoses take place. It’s opening a lot of people’s eyes.” Villard predicts a major culture shift that leans more toward cleanliness and safety than the “tough guy mantra.” “I’m a ten-year fire fighter, we’re right in the middle of Gen X and we have a certain mindset,” he says, tongue-in- cheek. “I think that mindset is starting to change. With this manual coming out, most of this class of the fire service is going to be open to the change.” Outspoken and active, Villard says he is not shy about discussing his own trials and tribulations with cancer as a fire fighter and regularly speaks to new recruit classes in his district. “I want folks to know that I was the guy who kind of had a bad attitude about it but someone changed my mind, but at that time, I had already gotten sick,” he says. “I’m just trying to prevent someone else from having the blinders on.” BY ERIN JAMES 1 5