New Hampshire firefighters push for legislation on cancer prevention and safer gear

March 25, 2024

Firefighters’ health at the forefront of new legislation

In New Hampshire, firefighters are rallying for the passage of two critical pieces of legislation aimed at cancer prevention and reducing exposure to harmful chemicals.

The first, SB 352, proposes a pilot program for cancer screening for active and retired career firefighters.

This initiative gains momentum in the wake of the tragic loss of Jess Wyman, a retired member of Nashua, NH Local 789, who succumbed to undetected Stage 4 lung cancer in November 2023.

Despite regular departmental physicals, Wyman’s cancer screenings were not included, leading to a late diagnosis.

Her husband, Chris Wyman of Hudson Local 3154, has since become a staunch advocate for the bill.

“I was testifying during a Senate hearing about this bill about 60 days after losing my wife. It was hard,” he remarked.

“But I did it because I believe that if our story can prevent even one firefighter family from having to go through the same thing we did, it will be worth it.”

The second legislative effort, HB 1352, focuses on mitigating firefighters’ cancer risks by encouraging the transition to PFAS-free gear.

With both bills showing promising progress through the legislative process, the firefighting community in New Hampshire is hopeful for positive changes that will protect their health and safety.

A focus on early cancer detection

The push for SB 352 underscores the critical need for early cancer detection among firefighters.

Senator Sharon Carson, the bill’s prime sponsor, emphasized the financial and health benefits of early screenings in a statement to Firerescue1.com: “You’re spending money up front to really ensure that someone’s healthy, rather than spending a heck of a lot of money when they get sick.”

This bill follows the successful passage of SB 71 last year, recognizing all types of cancer as presumed occupational illnesses for firefighters.

If enacted, the proposed two-year cancer screening program would benefit approximately 4,000 New Hampshire firefighters, offering comprehensive tests including blood work, ultrasounds, lung CT scans, and skin cancer screenings.

Transitioning to safer firefighting gear

Concurrently, HB 1352 seeks to address the long-term health risks posed by PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) in firefighter gear.

The bill, which has passed the House and is now under Senate consideration, advocates for the adoption of PFAS-free personal protective equipment.

It proposes a preference for safe alternatives once developed, prohibiting gear containing harmful chemicals like fluorine, chlorine, bromine, lead, or antimony from January 1, 2024.

The legislation aims to ensure firefighters are not only protected from the immediate dangers of fires but also from the latent health risks associated with their equipment.

FSJA Comment

The legislative efforts in New Hampshire represent a pivotal moment for firefighter health and safety nationwide.

By addressing the dual threats of cancer and exposure to hazardous chemicals, these bills highlight the broader challenge of ensuring the well-being of those who put their lives on the line to protect our communities.

Similarly, the movement towards PFAS-free gear reflects a growing awareness of the occupational hazards firefighters face and the importance of mitigating these risks through safer equipment.

As these legislative measures progress, they serve as a critical reminder of the need for ongoing advocacy and action to protect the health of firefighters across the country.

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