Charleston Fire Department Battalion Chief John Winn was a well-respected member of his South Carolina community, beloved by the residents he served and the firemen he worked alongside.
Unfortunately, Winn and his fellow firemen learned that fire-related diseases can be just as deadly as the fire itself.
Winn died May 27 from mesothelioma, an asbestos-related disease that results from toxins inhaled during fires.
He was 59.
The former chief served the fire department for over 34 years.
His funeral procession included dozens of fire trucks , one of them painted a pearl color to symbolize Winn’s advocacy efforts against the disease.
“We’re all hurting today, and we want to send him off in grand fashion. He’s a wonderful man, a great friend, and it’s going to leave a big void in our hearts,” said Gerald Mishoe, a friend and co-worker.
Winn was diagnosed with advance mesothelioma in February. This cancer affects the lives of nearly 3,000 annually within the United States. Treatment options for this disease are limited when it is discovered in later stages.
“Had he had the proper scanning early, they would have found it and possibly have treated it much better and had a much better opportunity at a quality of life,” Mishoe said.
The death of the fire chief reminds us of the dangers that asbestos poses to all first responders, in addition to industrial workers.
Public servants, especially fireman, have increased risk of asbestos exposure and subsequently an increased risk of developing of mesothelioma.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring yet toxic mineral, was used throughout residential homes and commercial buildings throughout much of the 1900s. When these structures become inflamed, the hazardous fibers become airborne and can be inhaled by these rescue workers.
When asbestos fibers get lodged in the human body, they have difficulty leaving the organs. In addition to mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural plaques have also been linked to asbestos exposure.
This issue became magnified to the public after the 9/11 Attacks on the World Trade Center. Thousands of first responders rushed to the scene to rescue and recover victims, eventually breathing in countless dangerous chemicals including asbestos.
Becoming aware of this health issue and remaining proactive regarding asbestos exposure can save lives.
Winn may have passed away from mesothelioma, but not before acting upon his mission of spreading awareness about related dangers faced by firefighters everywhere.
Upon receiving his diagnosis, Chief Winn learned about the dangers of asbestos and mesothelioma and worked vigilantly to spread his knowledge.
According to local reports, Winn advocated for active screenings of firefighters to detect and fight any medical conditions that may have been caused by their line of work. An early diagnosis provides increased chance of survival and more effective treatment options.
Mishoe said that the chief’s late diagnosis played a role in his mission to spread awareness so other firefighters could get the necessary testing to prevent mesothelioma and related diseases.
Winn spoke in April to a group of firefighters during an event when the Old Fort Fire Department donated a fire truck to Winn’s advocacy efforts.
“What I want to do is make this. I want everyone in the state, the nation to realize that mesothelioma cancer is out there, and I want this to be a symbol to recognize every firefighter in South Carolina,” Winn said to the firefighters in April.
His family and colleagues will continue his fight. A memorial fund was established in honor of Winn to continue raising awareness about mesothelioma and related health threats for firefighters.