The Tucson Fire Foundation is raising money to buy an imaging device that would help detect early signs of skin cancer among area firefighters.

A local nonprofit organization is seeking help from the community to keep firefighters safe from a potentially deadly disease.

The Greater Tucson Fire Foundation is seeking tax-deductible donations to help pay for new skin cancer screening technology called DermSpectra, which can be used to detect the disease early.

The foundation’s mission is to raise $100,000 to pay for the equipment and it’s asking for help from the community for $89,000. The money would be used to pay for the equipment that would provide screening at no cost to the Southern Arizona fire departments, according to a press release.

The foundation has been operating since 2010. It works with firefighters to provide them with health and wellness resources.

Foundation chairman Mike McKendrick said Tucson’s sunny skies create greater risk for firefighters. “A recent FEMA study showed that Southern Arizona firefighters are three times more likely than the general public to get skin cancer.”

McKendrick said in the last four years there have been several firefighters who have been diagnosed with skin cancer.

“Two firefighters a year get melanoma, that’s the skin cancer that kills,” McKendrick said. “Two doesn’t seem like much but when you look at two out of 1,800, that’s significant.”

When the foundation went through its strategic planning meetings, cancer prevention was an important item.

“So then we looked at what we could do as a foundation and what the community could do to help catch these early,” McKendrick said. “When you catch a melanoma early or any other skin cancer early, the numbers are in your favor to eradicate the cancer and save the life.”

The imaging technology will be placed at WellAmerica Inc., where Dr. Wayne F. Peate advised the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation about the imaging system, McKendrick said.

“Its technology that was founded here in Tucson, it was beta tested at the University of Arizona and Dr. Peate ... came to the foundation and basically said ‘we have this technology, it’s state of the art and our firefighters are at the most risk of any firefighters in the country.’”

He said after discussions with DSI Acquisition — the owners of DermSpectra — they were able to get the technology into the WellAmerica clinic.

Peate said when they found out the risk to firefighters, the decision was made to find a better screening process. “We thought we needed to do a better job because 98 percent of melanoma, if they’re detected early can be cured.” He said there’s a huge payoff to early detection.

McKendrick said in addition to the wellness of the firefighters, there is a business cost to procuring the DermSpectra imaging system. He said that not catching the cancer early is not only expensive but also creates trauma for the patient and time away from work.

“The community, the taxpayer, put in a tremendous amount of money for selecting these firefighters, training them and keeping them healthy so when you and I call 911 they’re ready and available to help us,” Peate said.

Capt. Andy Skaggs, a spokesman for the Tucson Fire Department, said firefighters are doing their best to combat the extremely hot weather and sunny skies.

“We’ve got sunscreen at all of the stations, the fire chief has authorized us to use hats, and then a lot of our folks opt to wear a long sleeve T-shirts instead of a short-sleeve T-shirts to help try to keep the sun off.”

Fire stations are going through safety training and being reminded about the dangers of the Tucson heat on their bodies and taking all precautions to stay safe.

“The firefighters are constantly doing their part to make sure that they’re staying safe so they can keep the citizens safe,” Skaggs said. “If we’re not in the healthiest condition, how are we supposed to help the citizens of Tucson.”

Shaq Davis is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact him at starapprentice@tucson.com.