CONCORD, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – The North Carolina Firefighter Alliance has announced that it has created a new grant opportunity to help small volunteer firefighters detect cancer earlier than they ever had.  

The Blue Ridge Health and Wellness Grant will provide funds to help cover the costs of cancer screenings during the department’s annual physicals.  

Concord Assistant Fire Chief Travis McGaha explained that it will give them the “ability to increase the effectiveness of their cancer screenings.”

The announcement came at Thursday’s Mid-Winter Conference for N.C. Fire Chief’s Association. The conference’s agenda focuses on highlighting cancer risks for firefighters.  

McGaha, also a leader in the Alliance, explained that the name is in honor of the firefighters who have passed away from cancer in Asheville. There have been four deaths since 2018.  

McGaha stressed, “cancer doesn’t just affect one person, it affects a family, it affects a department, a community. . . We’ve also partnered with SelectWell ( to be able to offer comprehensive screenings and navigate the processed that are in place.” 

The choice to begin this grant centered on providing more support for volunteer departments that don’t receive as much financial help as city departments.  

The hope is that early screenings will lead to early detection and treatment. Departments can send applications starting March 1.  

Alliance leaders stress “a civilian expert panel will review all grant requests to ensure objectivity” and that they hope to name those grant winners later this year.  

The Alliance has submitted $1,000 to the grant pool, hoping other agencies will do the same.  

More help for firefighters

The Alliance announced two additional resources on Thursday.

It has formed a new partnership with the First Responder Peer Support Network (FRPSN), which will give North Carolina firefighters access to a peer support individual.  

These are individuals with similar battles with cancer.  

It has also introduced a new “RIT Pack” thumb drive. The device includes resources that will help those with a recent diagnosis.  

“The first 24 hours after a cancer diagnosis can feel like a hurricane, where a firefighter’s brain spins with questions about what to do next,” McGaha said. “We have cancer survivors on our Board who told us exactly what a firefighter needs to know immediately upon hearing the words, ‘You have cancer.’” 

The RIT Pack will include information on the critical task of applying for the state’s supplemental insurance program and emotional support resources.