KTUU: U.S. Congress passes firefighter cancer registry

The United States Congress has passed legislation creating a national registry for firefighters diagnosed with cancer, aiming to gather data and pinpoint common links for cancers in firefighters at a national level.

The bipartisan legislation became law July 7, co-sponsored by legislators across the aisle, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R – Alaska.

“My decision to be the lead Republican on this bill in the Senate was inspired by Anchorage firefighter Andy Mullen, a strong advocate for firefighter concerns, who ultimately lost his life from a battle with cancer caused by exposure to toxins from electrical wires from a brush fire,” said Murkowski. “I am hopeful that the data gathered through this law will help improve fire ground safety and prevent stories like Andy’s from being repeated again.”

Mullen, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 45 with three children, is remembered by his brother Scott as someone wild and carefree who found his purpose as a firefighter and paramedic in Alaska.

“We’ve had quite a few people who have experienced some type of cancer in the department,” said Jodie Hettrick, Chief of the Anchorage Fire Department.

Hettrick says the department is focused on health and safety by ensuring that firefighters always wear a self-contained breathing apparatus so they don’t inhale harmful smoke or toxins. To protect against absorbing harmful chemicals through the skin, Hettrick says AFD has firefighters decontaminate their uniforms after every fire.

Tom Weston, the president of the Alaska Professional Firefighters Association, worked with unions across the country for two years to create the national registry.

“It’s going to start gathering the data necessary for us to identify steps for us to take, aside for what we’ve already done, to eliminate cancer in the fire service,” said Weston.

He credits Murkowski and the entire Alaska delegation with helping to get the bill over the line.

By:  Sean Maguire
Source: KTUU