ONEONTA, Ala. (WIAT) — The wife of an Alabama firefighter who died of cancer is making it her mission to make sure other first responders are screened early.
It’s been almost 18 months since the death of Oneonta firefighter Rex Allred. He lost his battle with an aggressive brain tumor in March 2020.
Allred’s wife, Stephanie, recently purchased early detection test kits for two dozen Oneonta firefighters. Equipment will arrive this week.
“It’s not only are they just taking this test for themselves, but they are taking it for their families and the people in the community who trust them and look up to them,” said Allred.
In recent years, doctors and health leaders have said firefighters are at an increased risk for some diseases, like cancer, because of the elements they are exposed to.
Often, conditions are still dangerous after flames are out and firefighters go into overhaul mode to monitor hotspots and cleanup.
“That’s one of the biggest times you can actually get into carcinogens, because you’re breathing in all of the unburned fuels and carbons,” said Josh Gibson, Allred’s cousin, who is also a captain with the Oneonta Fire Department.
The Allred family has been part of the city’s fire service for years. Rex Allred’s father was also a member of OFD. He too died of cancer.
Stephanie Allred also previously served as a first responder and still stays in touch with the team at OFD.
“I have a lot of loved ones and people that I care dearly about here and I want to take care of them,” said Allred.
Rex and Stephanie’s 17-year-old son is also interested in joining the fire service after he completes high school.
Stephanie Allred is supportive, but said it is more motivation for her to continue sharing her husband’s story.
“I think that he would be very proud of the fact that the department, his family, are advocating to make a difference,” said Stephanie Allred.
Gibson and other members of OFD have agreed to have blood drawn and sent out to a medical team for early screening. He said it is important to get tested after the death of his loved one.
“It was unexpected. It wasn’t something that we wanted of course, and I don’t want to place that on my family if I can have this test and find something out early and try to overcome this,” said Gibson.
While Stephanie Allred purchased the tests, she would like to see screening done each year. She’s hopeful other community partners will consider finding a way to fund the testing going forward.
Family members are also encouraging other fire departments to consider screening firefighters as well.
“They at least will have an early detection that maybe will save their lives,” said Stephanie Allred.
As a part of the screening, OFD firefighters can have blood drawn and tested by medical professionals at a lab. Results should be available to participants in a week to ten days.
While Allred said the results will not tell a firefighter if he or she has cancer, it will test for increased risk.