Firefighters gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to convey that the most dangerous aspect of their jobs is not the blazes they battle, but the chemicals they ingest while fighting fires.
“There is one thing no training can prepare you for,” said Mike Rund, a Maryland firefighter, pausing with tears in his eyes as a colleague patted him on the back. “The words, ‘You have cancer.'”
Rund, the president of the Maryland firefighters union, was diagnosed with prostrate cancer but is now in remission. He joined fellow firefighters and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate at a news conference Tuesday morning, pushing for Congress to establish a national firefighter cancer registry to aid research and help guide training and prevention measures. Failing to do so, they argued, would be dire.
“Everyone has a firefighter in their community that’s willing to get out of bed, day and night, regardless of the risk,” said Rep. Richard Hanna. “And it would amount, in my mind, to criminal neglect for anyone not to support this.”
The New York Republican is one of the chief proponents of the House legislation to establish the registry, which he estimated would cost $2.5 million. Hanna is optimistic that Congress will act on the legislation.
The lawmakers pointed to a recent fight to reauthorize health care programs for first responders to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks as evidence that Congress can address this issue. But the 9/11 measure, known as the James Zadroga Act, took months of news conferences, tense meetings with top leaders, and help from comedian Jon Stewart to get across the finish line.
“I think we’ll see it succeed before this Congress adjourns,” said Harold A. Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
The bill has bipartisan support in both chambers, with Hanna and Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey the chief proponents in the House. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has sponsored the Senate bill, which has garnered support from Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Marco Rubio of Florida and John McCain of Arizona.
“Members of Congress are so hungry to get something passed to show that we do work, that we are at the best of times to do this,” said Pascrell.