Firefighters Seeking Hepatitis Immunization

Posted: February 11, 1987

Two years ago, a Camden firefighter pulled a charred man from a Liberty Street fire, leaving blood on the firefighter's hands and face.

The firefighter, who now suffers from Hepatitis B, suspects he may have contracted the disease from the victim's body fluids and blood.

But, because the fire victim died, there is no way to prove that the firefighter contracted the disease on the job. And the firefighter, who declined to be identified, still has relapses of the disease, becoming jaundiced and weak.

The International Association of Firefighters, Local 788, began a campaign yesterday to urge Camden officials to immunize firefighters for Hepatitis B, so that other city firefighters will not contract the incurable disease, which is spread through exposure to blood or body fluids and can cause liver cancer. About 10 percent of Camden's 240 firefighters have contracted some form of hepatitis on the job, according to Local 788 president Frank McGuckin.

Because the city's firefighters continually face the possibility of exposure to Hepatitis B, the firefighters' union is pushing for the immunization program because firefighters can contract the disease even from spittle while they give mouth-to-mouth resucitation.

Often it is difficult to prove that a firefighter was contaminated in the line of duty because the disease, which has infected more than a million people in this country, may not surface for months.

Yesterday, the union, using firefighters as actors, showed a film about the disease at Camden's Fire Administration Building. Police administrators and officials from the Police Benevolent Association watched the film, along with all the fire battalion captains.

McGuckin said a representative from the city who handles workers compensation was examining how an immunization program might be implemented. McGuckin said it would cost $150 a person to receive an immunization shot.

"We face enough hazards," McGuckin said. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

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