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Firefighter Cancer Registry Bill Passes House

Bipartisan Collins-Pascrell bill seeks public health information to support fire services

Today the U.S. House passed H.R. 931, legislation coauthored by Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) and Chris Collins (R-NY) that would require the CDC to develop and maintain a registry to collect data regarding the incidence of cancer in firefighters. The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act addresses an enormous gap in research conducted on the heath impacts of a career of firefighting. Firefighters may experience detrimental health effects due to smoke inhalation and other harmful substances, and this legislation takes a first step toward developing new protocols and safeguards for these men and women.

“Passage of the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act is a major step towards improving the health and safety of our brave firefighters across the nation who head into danger despite the risks and keep our communities safe. The least we can do is seek to better understand the connections between the job they do and risk of cancer, so we can work to further mitigate those risks,” stated Rep. Pascrell. “We will now ask the Senate to follow the lead of the House and get this bill to the President’s desk quickly.”

“Sixteen years ago yesterday, on September 11th, 2001, we witnessed a horrible tragedy that will leave an impression on generations of Americans forever,” said Rep. Collins. “Through this tragedy, we witnessed the heroic actions of America’s brave first responders working and volunteering in the days and weeks to come. We lost many first responders during those attacks of 9/11 and we continue to lose more every year from ongoing health effects. After NIOSH’s 2015 study, it was clear something needed to be done to ensure our nation’s firefighters had the best resources and equipment available to mitigate potential future health risks. This bill will help us study this deadly trend and the information we gather will determine what needs to be done to improve safety protocols for these brave men and women.”

A 2015 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that in the U.S. firefighters had a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths. Unfortunately this study was limited in scope by a small sample size, yet the proposed legislation would establish and improve collection infrastructure and activities to collect a greater abundance of data.

If signed into law, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act would authorize $2 million in federal funds to the CDC from FY2018 to FY2022. Data gathered would include a number of potential risk factors, including but not limited to the status of the firefighter (volunteer, paid-on-call, or career), number of years on the job, the number of incidents attended, and the type of incidence. The collection of this data would allow for improved equipment, enhanced safety protocols and preventative techniques for our firefighters.

"The IAFC thanks Representatives Collins and Pascrell for their leadership in securing passage of H.R. 931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2017,” said Chief Thomas Jenkins, International Association of Fire Chiefs President and Chairman of the Board. “This legislation will help researchers to better understand the link between firefighting and cancer and help the nation’s fire service fight this significant health threat."

The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act was advanced out of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health on June 29, 2017 and was passed out of full committee on July 27, 2017. The next step in advancing this legislation is passage in the Senate.

The full statement Rep. Pascrell gave on the House floor can be found below:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R.931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.

I thank my partner, the gentleman from New York, Mr. Collins, for introducing the bill. And thanks as well to Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Pallone, Dr. Burgess and Mr. Green for helping to shepherd our bill through the Energy and Commerce Committee and onto the House floor today.

As a co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus and the lead Democratic sponsor of H.R.931, I am proud to stand up for the brave men and women of our fire service. It is these individuals who put their lives on the line day in and day out to keep our communities safe. In addition to ensuring that our first responders are prepared in advance of disasters and other emergencies, we must also ensure that they receive the necessary medical care and services after answering the call of duty.

When the courageous men and women in the fire services enter dangerous situations they do not stop to ask whether they are subjecting themselves to long-term health risks.

Yesterday across the country, we honored the first responders that answered the call of duty after the terrorists attack of September 11. Many of those brave men and women gave their lives – and many more are living with long-term health problems stemming from the time they spent at a toxic Ground Zero. As evidenced on that day, and many before and since, our first responders do whatever is necessary to keep our communities safe. That is why we must have their backs.

While we know that firefighters are routinely exposed to a variety of known carcinogens in chaotic and uncontrolled environments, we do not have a good sense of the full picture of the negative impacts of this exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, firefighters are at higher risk for certain kinds of cancer, including brain cancer, leukemia, lung, and kidney cancer, when compared with the general population. Despite the knowledge we’ve gained through these studies, many have been limited by small sample sizes and an underrepresentation of key demographic groups.

The first step to finding solutions is understanding the nature of the problem. Further public health research on this topic is needed so we can start working to find ways to alleviate this risk. That is why I am pleased H.R.931 is on the floor today. H.R.931 would create a national cancer registry for firefighters diagnosed with this deadly disease.

The creation of a specialized firefighter cancer registry will provide scientists and medical professionals with the detailed national data that will allow them to study the relationship between firefighters’ exposure to dangerous fumes and harmful toxins, and the increased risk for several major cancers. In the future, this information could also allow for better protective equipment and prevention techniques to be developed.

This bill enjoys strong support from major fire organizations across our nation, including the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the New Jersey Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association and the International Fire Services Training Association.

Taking care of the brave men and women of the fire service is an important task and we cannot delay in getting them the help they need.

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues in the House to pass this bill swiftly so we can work on getting it through the Senate and onto the President’s desk. Thank you.

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