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Retired Barstow firefighter dies after long battle with work-related cancer

BARSTOW, Calif. ( — Retired Barstow Fire Captain John McNelis died Wednesday, December 21, 2022, after a years-long fight against AML Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the most aggressive form of Leukemia that attacks the bone marrow.

“Today with a heavy heart we announce the passing of our brother retired Fire Captain John McNelis. John was an amazing individual who dedicated his life to serving others, many of those years spent here in the city of Barstow,”  said Barstow Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 2325.

This was not McNelis’s first battle with cancer, he had conquered Lymphoma along with additional issues with kidney failure in the past 6 years.

“McNelis was hired with the Barstow Fire Protection District as a Firefighter/Paramedic and ended his career in the rank of Fire Captain when job-related cancer forced him to retire,” the Department said.

He also was a paramedic instructor for Victor Valley College’s EMS Academy for many years. 

McNelis passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by his loving family. 

“We pray and send our deepest condolences to his wife and children,” the Department said.

John McNelis is survived by his wife Barb, and three children Johnny, Sara, and Craig McNelis.

(Craig and John McNelis.)

Many friends and colleagues shared memories of the recently fallen firefighter;

“I will miss you partner in crime. The same shift for a couple of years. Historical fires together and memories forever! Will take it from here brother. Prayers to my extended family,” said Aaron Keser. 

(John McNelis- Center – Photo by IAFF Local 2325)

A recent study reclassified the occupation of firefighting as the highest hazard, citing cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in the fire service.

Firefighters are exposed to a complex mixture of combustion products from fires, diesel exhaust, building materials, and other hazards (e.g. heat stress, shift work, and ultraviolet and other radiation). 

In fact, at the 2022 IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial, almost 75% of the names added to the wall (348 out of 469) were members who had died from occupational cancer.

Firefighters have been fighting to increase public awareness to occupational cancer in the fire service in order to help generate greater legislative support for states and provinces to establish presumptive disabilities for all cancers affecting firefighters.

“You can do everything to prevent it, but sometimes even that isn’t enough,” stated a Barstow Firefighter.

McNelis was described as a loyal husband, father, firefighter, and friend.

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