President signs bill to track firefighter cancer rates, details

CONCORD, N.H. — A major change is coming to help firefighters battle cancer from years of being exposed to toxic chemicals.

It all stems from our months-long reporting on Boston's Bravest: Facing a Hidden Killer, in which we laid out this problem in depth.

The White House called Boston 25 News Monday morning to tell us the president had signed a bill into law that will track cancer among firefighters across the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control will soon begin tracking cancer among firefighters nationwide, which will likely impact how firefighters are treated, once diagnosed.

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Boston seems to be ground zero for cancer diagnoses, with a new one every few weeks. But in New Hampshire, they too are fighting hard for change and applaud the move by the president to take action.

“We're going to have the science that shows the link between cancer and the fire service and hopefully this will help with the insurance and health care costs,” the firefighters’ union president Jennifer Myers said.

On Tuesday, the governor of New Hampshire will sign a bill into law that will allow firefighters cancer treatment benefits to be funded through worker's compensation.

It's a major victory for these firefighters, considering three Portsmouth firefighters have died from occupational cancer in recent years.

“This is huge for firefighters in New Hampshire,” Myers said. “Legislation was put on the books 30-plus years ago and it's been unenforceable. So now this is a step in the right direction.”

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U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren -- who told Boston 25 News in April how she was pushing for the firefighter cancer registry -- said, "we can collect better data on the problem and better protect the firefighters who put their lives on the line for us every day."

So for the next five years at least, the CDC will gather all kinds of information about firefighters diagnosed with cancer.

The details collected will include how many years they spend on the job; the number of incidents they respond to; and the type of call.

Gathering all of this will lead to better equipment and ways to fight cancer in the fire service.

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