“It sometimes surprises people when I tell them that the most dangerous threat to the health and safety of fire fighters is not from fires and it is not from vehicle accidents. It is from cancer,” said Schaitberger. “Cancer is a looming personal catastrophe for all our members, and we are just beginning to understand the magnitude of the problem.”
Schaitberger was joined by the sponsors of the legislation, Representatives Richard Hanna (R-NY), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Representative Peter King (R-NY) and Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) also spoke in support of the bill.
Speaking on behalf of the IAFF, President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland Michael Rund – himself a cancer survivor – said, “Everyone who becomes a fire fighter is aware of the potential for danger. Despite the danger of our occupation, we take the risk every day knowing that we have been properly trained and having the faith that our training will help keep us safe. However, there is one thing no training can prepare you for: the words ‘you have cancer.’”
Multiple scientific studies have found higher rates of cancer in fire fighters, cancers ranging from multiple myeloma, brain cancer, leukemia, prostate cancer, kidney and lung cancers and many others. A 2013 study by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) found that fire fighters have a 14 percent increased risk of dying from cancer than the general population.
Unfortunately, the problem may be worse than these studies indicate. The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act would collect more and better data, on a scale never before implemented, on the incidence of fire fighter cancer. This information will help scientists better understand the link between the disease and the occupation, an understanding which will hopefully translate into better treatment and prevention strategies.
The Registry Act is currently pending before two congressional committees. Support for the legislation grows every day, and the IAFF will continue working with its friends in Congress to build support for the bill to make a national fire fighter cancer registry a reality.