GREAT FALLS — As part of the ongoing effort to protect Montana firefighters from deadly diseases, U.S. Senator Jon Tester of Montana cosponsored the Firefighter Cancer Registry Re-authorization Act, to renew critical funding for the registry. Enacted in 2018, it officially went online earlier this year, the largest effort undertaken to understand the risk of cancer among U.S. firefighters.
"A Montana firefighter is often the first one you call if you're in trouble. They always have our backs, so we need to have theirs. These folks are routinely exposed to harmful toxins and fumes, and we need to understand the link between those exposures and the possible negative health impacts," Tester said.
When asked about the subject of Firefighters and Cancer, CEO of the First Responder Center for Excellence (FRCE), Victor Stagnaro said that it tends to be overlooked, and not many people know the impacts that firefighting can have on someone's health.
"It's not addressed enough," he said. "It is something that has become an emergent issue over the last several years. We first really learned about the cancer risks that firefighters have in 2015 when I did a study, and that's really the first time we started to say, 'wow, there's something we really need to take a closer look at.'"
Tester's office claims the registry will improve collection tools and allow doctors and scientists to monitor and study the relationship between exposure to dangerous fumes and toxins and the incidence of cancer in firefighters. This data will help determine if there is a link, so experts can develop better protective gear and prevention techniques.
Tester said, "This registry will allow doctors and scientists to study the relationship between these exposures and the incidence of cancer in firefighters. Then, once the science is clear, we'll know exactly the tools and resources Congress needs to provide our firefighters for them to stay safe on the job. Reauthorizing the registry should be a no brainer, and I'm looking forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to get this signed into law."
Tester’s bill to reauthorize funding for the registry is supported by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the Congressional Fire Services Institute, First Responder Center of Excellence, the International Association of Firefighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population.
"There's a lot more research that needs to happen," Stagnaro said. "A lot of causal issues and we know that firefighters get cancer at higher rates than the rest of the population. So, there's really a lot of ripples, that is really beneficial not just for the fire service, but for the general population."