Support Firefighter Registry Act

They’re the people we rely on in emergencies to rescue our loved ones, our belongings and sometimes even ourselves. Many receive no compensation, other than the gratitude of their communities.

Firefighters have a big responsibility and tough job — even for those volunteers who have a different “day job.”

But, now in addition to the known risk they take on to help protect their communities, they are facing another killer — cancer.

We should be doing everything we can to better understand why this is happening to firefighters across the nation, starting with petitioning our lawmakers to establish a cancer database.

The people who spend a lifetime watching out for residents and putting themselves in harm’s way in order to save the lives of others shouldn’t have to suffer the fate of a terrible disease like cancer.

Especially if there’s something that can be done to prevent it.

Firefighters are backing legislation introduced in U.S. Congress to establish a national firefighter cancer registry to get a firm handle on the problem. The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act would require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and maintain a voluntary registry of firefighters to collect history and occupational information that can be linked to existing data in state cancer registries, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The registry, it said, would be used to improve monitoring of firefighters and to collect and publish epidemiological information regarding cancer among firefighters.

We cannot adequately fight — or prevent — something we don’t yet understand. What we do know is this: firefighters are more likely to be diagnosed and die from cancer in comparison to the general population. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health undertook two studies focused on firefighter cancer, NFPA reported. It found that firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnoses and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population in the U.S., NFPA said.

“What has become almost an epidemic in the fire service is the increase in the number of cancer-related illnesses across the world in the fire service,” said Brian Jones, president of the Professional Firefighters of West Virginia, in a Journal article published Thursday.

Jones was among 800 firefighters from across the country who attended the annual Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., this week. He said 30 years ago, firefighters were most often diagnosed with asbestos-related cancers. Today, the cancers are more often leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma.

But, doctors don’t fully understand which exposures are responsible for cancers in firefighters, the mechanisms by which exposures cause cancer, nor the most effective means of reducing exposures, according to a NFPA fact sheet.

Medical experts need more information in order to help solve this riddle.

Legislators shouldn’t waste time in moving the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act forward.

It’s the least we can do for the men and women who lay their lives on the line every time a fire call comes in.