Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs applauds support of Firefighter Cancer Wellness Act

The Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs (RIAFC) commended Governor Donald L. Carcieri, as well as the House of Representatives and State Senate for the legislators’ support of the Firefighter Cancer Wellness Act (H-7171 Substitute A; S-2887 Substitute A), sponsored by Representatives Roger Picard, Bruce Long, John Loughlin, and Thomas Slater, and Senators Teresa Paiva-Weed, Dominick Ruggerio, Leo Blais and Rhoda Perry, respectively.

The House and Senate bills were recently signed by Governor Carcieri, on July 1 and July 2, 2008, respectively.

The Firefighter Cancer Wellness Act will establish an education campaign to inform firefighters of the cancer risks associated with their professions and to monitor increases and medical breakthroughs to decrease the incidence of cancer among firefighters. In addition, the Firefighter Cancer Wellness Act will allow the department of health, the state fire marshal and Rhode Island municipalities to enter into contracts with healthcare and/or cancer screening providers for the purpose of establishing preventative programs for firefighters and related professions.

“The Firefighter Cancer Wellness Act will help our firefighters to prevent cancer, not just treat it,” said RIAFC President Timothy McLaughlin, Chief of the Pawtucket (RI) Fire Department. “Our firefighters put their lives on the line every day, and have a higher risk of several forms of cancer. Prevention programs such as those outlined in this bill will help us to better educate our departments of the increased risks, and offer preventative measures to help keep our firefighters healthy and cancer free.”

Studies have indicated that firefighters face higher-than-average risks of several types of cancer, adding to evidence that the job carries hazards beyond the fires themselves. The most recent study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, published in a recent issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, found that professional firefighters had higher-than-expected rates of colon cancer and brain cancer.

There was also evidence that firefighters had elevated risks of bladder and kidney cancers, as well as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Between 1986 and 2003, the registry recorded 2,125 cancer diagnoses among professional male firefighters. The researchers found that, compared with men in other occupations, firefighters had nearly twice the risk of brain cancer and a 36 percent higher risk of colon cancer.

This study is just one of several that have been published in the past few years, all with similar results. A 2006 study released by the University of Cincinnati, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, found that firefighters face a 100 percent increase in testicular cancer, for multiple myeloma there is a 50 percent increased risk, for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma it’s a 50 percent increased risk, and for prostate cancer it’s a 28 percent increased risk, compared with non-firefighters.

Firefighters are exposed to many carcinogens, including benzene, diesel engine exhaust, chloroform, soot, styrene, and formaldehyde. The chemicals can be absorbed through the skin and exposure to the chemicals occurs both at the scene of the fire and at the fire station, where fire trucks produce exhaust.

“The Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs would like to thank Governor Carcieri and the members of the House and Senate for their continued support of the fire service, and their support of the Firefighter Cancer Wellness Act in particular,” Chief McLaughlin said.

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