To gain better understanding of firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens and its effects, legislation sponsored by Yvonne Lopez, Annette Quijano and John Armato to establish a voluntary firefighter cancer registry received final legislative approval on Thursday, passing the full Senate by a vote of 35-0-0.
“Our brave firefighters take risks everyday while on the job, including exposing themselves to much higher rates of known and suspected carcinogens,” said Lopez (D-Middlesex). “This registry will help us better understand the causes and outcomes of cancer in the fire services and ultimately, identify ways to mitigate and prevent it from occurring.”
The bill (A-4285) would require the Commissioner of Health to develop and maintain a voluntary firefighter cancer registry to collect relevant information that can be used to study how the disease afflicts this population. The following information from each firefighter would be included:
· Age and demographic information
· Identifying the firefighter as either a career or volunteer worker
· Number of years working as a firefighter
· Number of fire incidents attended as a firefighter
· Past smoking or drug use
· Relevant physical examination and medical history
· Additional information deemed necessary by the commissioner
“There are firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer years after they’ve left the line of duty,” said Quijano (D-Union). “By collecting this data, we can begin to understand the full extent of work-related health risks, and take the next steps to provide these courageous men and women the support they need.”
“As a volunteer firefighter, I know firsthand that we owe so much to our first responders who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to help others,” said Armato (D-Atlantic). “Now that we’re beginning to see the long-term effects this ever-challenging work can have on the body, we need to know more about carcinogen exposure and how it affects our firefighters.”
Additionally, the bill would ask the commissioner to create a strategy for raising awareness of the registry to maximize participation, as well as develop a process to make data available for free while maintaining the confidentiality of registered firefighters.
This measure follows suit with efforts across the nation to assess health risks for first responders and set policy to grant them workers compensation. In 2011, President Barack Obama signed the James Zadrogra 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which authorized the government to assist with medical bills incurred by emergency workers who developed health issues following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And earlier this year, a voluntary federal first responder cancer registry was established.
Prior to gaining Senate approval, the bill passed the full Assembly by a vote of 79-0-1.