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Auburn Fire Department lost a firefighter to job-related cancer last year. Now they're making changes to the culture.

After Trent Lindholdt's death, the firefighters made addressing issues like job-related cancer and PTSD priorities.

AUBURN, Calif. — Trent Lindholdt is on the mind of every firefighter in Auburn every day. 

In 2017, Lindholdt was diagnosed with job-related stage 4 lung cancer. He fought the disease for a year before he passed away surrounded by his colleagues and family. Lindholdt lost his battle to work-related cancer on April 10, 2018. He was 47 years old.

"There's not a day that goes by that his name isn't mentioned at least once, and today is one of those times," said Austin Kiefer, a firefighter with Auburn City Fire for five years. "Tomorrow will be one of those times. It will continue indefinitely and we all miss him very much."

Lindholdt and the other Auburn firefighters were part of a tight-knit group. After his death, the firefighters made addressing issues like job-related cancer and PTSD priorities. These priorities would eventually be pushed forward by their chief and succeed due to the determination from fire crews. 

"As a fire service, it's really a cultural shift that we are trying to make as we move forward," said Fire Chief Dave Spencer.

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In his 30 years of experience, Spencer knows the hidden dangers of the job now but didn't always.

"I was one of the first to say absolutely it is a badge of courage to have a dirty helmet," Spencer said. "But I recognize that dirty helmet is carcinogens and that is probably going to hurt me, and I think it's important to talk about and that's how we will change the culture."

And change the culture they did.

As opposed to dropping their turnout gear in the engine, Auburn firefighters now remove their contaminated gear, seal it away in a bag, and return it to the station. The department even purchased an extractor to help remove cancer-causing carcinogens and have spare turnouts for the firefighters in case they need to respond to another fire.

Recently, the department has secured a grant that will allow them to do pre-cancer screenings for their crews. The screening will give them a baseline of where the firefighters stand now so that years down the line they can better understand where their health is at.

They have also made it a point to talk more about PTSD in the fire service. While it's tough to open up, they are sharing their story consistently with other firefighters and departments with which they work.

"I will gladly give out 100 trash bags a day if that's what it takes to make a change," said fire captain Tony D'Ambrogi said. 

They are doing this by keeping Trent Lindholdt's name at the forefront of every fire, on every call they respond.

"You don't think about this being the hard part of the job, but it is," D'Ambrogi emphasized. "It's what took Trent. It's not the front news headline story of a firefighter died in a fire. Well, Trent did die in a fire, but we don't know which one and that's the sad part of this. We need to take steps to make ourselves better." 

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