To explore whether exposure among firefighters to fire smoke could lead to an increased risk of cancer, lung disease, and heart disease, the mortality of 4546 firefighters who were employed by the cities of Seattle and Tacoma, WA and Portland, OR for at least one year between 1944 and 1979 were compared with United States national mortalities and with mortality of police officers from the same cities. Between 1945 and 1989, 1169 deaths occurred in the study population and 1162 death certificates (99%) were collected. Mortality due to all causes, ischaemic heart disease, and most other non-malignant diseases was less than expected based upon United States rates for white men. There was no excess risk of overall mortality from cancer but excesses of brain tumours (standardised mortality ratio (SMR) = 2.09, 95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.3-3.2) and lymphatic and haematopoietic cancers (SMR = 1.31, 95% CI = 0.9-1.8) were found. Younger firefighters (< 40 years of age) appeared to have an excess risk of cancer (SMR = 1.45, 95% CI 0.8-2.39), primarily due to brain cancer (SMR = 3.75, 95% CI 1.2-8.7). The risk of lymphatic and haematopoietic cancers was greatest for men with at least 30 years of exposed employment (SMR = 2.05, 95% CI 1.1-3.6), especially for leukaemia (SMR = 2.60, 95% CI 1.0-5.4).