U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced that they secured $2.5 million for the National Firefighter Cancer Registry as part of the bipartisan spending agreement, which is expected to pass Congress shortly. In June 2018, Congress passed Schumer-backed legislation that established a specialized National Firefighter Cancer Registry, which is now managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Schumer has long fought on behalf of this critical registry that aims to improve collection capabilities and activities related to the nationwide monitoring of cancer incidence among all firefighters, both career and volunteer.
Additionally, Schumer and Gillibrand fought to secure critical, $5 million increases for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program.
“Firefighters risk their lives every day, charging into extreme danger, and exposing themselves to harmful toxins and pollutants. We owe it to these courageous men and women to ensure that if they fall ill, they receive first-rate medical care and treatment,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I was so proud to lead the effort in securing a boosted $2.5 million for the absolutely paramount national firefighter cancer registry, which not only helps researchers track the incidence of cancer among firefighters, but also informs efforts to treat and eventually prevent firefighters being stricken by cancer, and major increases in federal funding for two of the grant program our first responders depend on most: AFG and SAFER. I’ll always have the backs of our local heroes—our fighters—who throw themselves in front of harm’s way to protect their communities.”
“Firefighters put their lives on the line to protect all of us and that risk extends far beyond their firefighting. It is imperative that we give these brave responders access to the medical care they need to combat cancer and other ailments brought on by their exposure to smoke and other harmful toxins,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am proud that Congress has dedicated funding for the National Firefighter Cancer Register to better understand the connection between firefighting and cancer and give our firefighters access to the resources they need, and that funding for two critical firefighting grant programs has increased. This is great news for our first responders, and I will continue to advocate for them in Congress.”
According to a five-year study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, there are twice as many firefighters in the U.S. with malignant mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, when compared to the general population. The same study also found that firefighters have an increased risk of death from lung cancer and leukemia as compared to the general population.
The senators explained that firefighters are exposed to a range of harmful toxins when responding to emergency situations, often as a result of the noxious flame retardants and other chemicals that are used in everyday items, such as furniture, clothing, and children’s toys. Experts and scientists have repeatedly sounded the alarm on the danger of these toxic chemicals because they have been found to cause developmental delays in children from long-term exposure in addition to rare cancers in firefighters when these products burn and the toxins become airborne.
Schumer and Gillibrand said research has indicated that there is a strong connection between firefighting and an increased risk for several major cancers, including testicular, stomach, multiple myeloma, and brain cancers. Prior to 2018, there had never been a long-term registry established to track the potential connections between firefighting and incidences of cancer. Schumer and Gillibrand, therefore, said this national firefighter cancer registry is of the utmost importance, so experts and researchers can more effectively monitor nationwide trends and incidences of various cancers among firefighters – both career and volunteer. The senators said this registry could also help medical professionals more effectively identify and treat cancer in firefighters over the long-term.
Specifically, this national firefighter cancer registry does the following:
- Compiles epidemiological information submitted by healthcare professionals related to cancer incidence among firefighters in one comprehensive database.
- Makes anonymous data available to public health researchers so that they have access to comprehensive datasets that will allow them to expand groundbreaking research related to firefighting and cancer.
- Improves understanding of cancer incidence, which could potentially lead to the development of advanced safety protocols and safeguards for firefighters on the front lines each day.
- Allows for increased collaboration between the CDC and epidemiologists, public health experts, clinicians, and firefighters through regular and consistent consultations to improve the effectiveness and accuracy of the registry.
Schumer supported the creation of the national firefighter registry from its earliest stages, traveling from one corner of the state to the other to push the legislation that eventually established it as one of its original cosponsors. Specifically, he visited the Corning Fire Department, New Rochelle Fire Department, Troy Fire Department, Plattsburgh Fire Department, Saratoga Springs Fire Department, Amsterdam Fire Department, Syracuse Fire Department’s Station 5, Poughkeepsie Fire Department, the Olean Fire Department, Rochester Fire Department, and Buffalo Fire Department between 2016 and 2017, all in support of Upstate New York’s courageous first responders and the need to understand the link between firefighting and cancer.
The AFG Program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency in cooperation with the Department’s United States Fire Administration. The grants are awarded on a competitive basis to the applicants that most closely address the program’s priorities and demonstrate financial need.
The SAFER grant program was established by FEMA within the Department of Homeland Security to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations to help them increase the number of trained, “front line” firefighters available in their communities. The goal of SAFER is to enhance the local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response, and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.