RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces FIRE Cancer Act to Provide Early Detection Cancer Tests for All Firefighters in New Jersey and the U.S.

Firefighters Have a 14% Higher Risk of Dying from Cancer and 9% Higher Risk of Cancer Diagnosis

Jun 16, 2023
Press

Above: Gottheimer in Hackensack announcing his new FIRE Cancer Act to provide all firefighters with early cancer detection tests.

HACKENSACK, NJ — Today, June 16, 2023, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer and New Jersey firefighters announced new bipartisan federal legislation, the Firefighter Investments to Recognize Exposure to Cancer Act (FIRE Cancer Act), which will provide federal investments so that all firefighters across America can access multi-cancer early detection tests and other preventative tests at no out-of-pocket cost — no matter if they’re volunteer or professional firefighters.

The FIRE Cancer Act is endorsed by the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, and the National Association of Government Employees.

Between 2002 and 2019, cancer caused 66% of the professional firefighter line-of-duty deaths. Firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer, than the general American population. Firefighters are often exposed to toxic chemicals at high levels, including cancer-causing carcinogens present during their responses and at the fire station on their turnout gear.

Gottheimer called on the New Jersey State Legislature to pass legislation and ensure that all volunteer and professional firefighters in New Jersey are covered for cancer tests. New Jersey State Senator Linda Greenstein and Assemblyman Sterley Stanley led legislation that was signed into law to help professional firefighters access cancer testing. Senators Vin Gopal and Greenstein and Assemblyman Stanley are working to pass legislation to get the same screenings for volunteer firefighters.

“Everyone knows about the immediate dangers our firefighters face when they run into a burning building. But, what’s not often talked about nearly enough is the silent killer they come home with after putting out the fire. Let me make this very clear: early cancer detection saves lives and the firefighters standing next to me here today need resources to access cancer testing,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), a member of the bipartisan Congressional Fire Services Caucus. “The bottom line is that if you are a firefighter, you should be screened for cancer on a regular basis at no out-of-pocket cost. This is the least we can do for the sacrifices they make. The FIRE Cancer Act will help do just that.”

“New Jersey has long been known as an innovative state, and that includes the thoughtful legislation and policies our lawmakers have championed over the years,” said New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association (NJ FMBA) President Eddie Donnelly. “Whether it’s been grants to make our firefighters safer; the development of the national Cancer Registry to track incidents of this dreaded disease; or now funding to regularly test the men and women of the fire service if they are struck as a result of their lifesaving efforts so that they can receive early treatment; the work to protect our community’s first responders is often born right here in our state. We appreciate the hard work of Congressman Gottheimer to champion this legislation and the NJ FMBA pledges its full support to see this legislation signed into law.”

“Multi-cancer early detection has been, and remains a priority of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFANJ). The health and safety of our members is always paramount. Over the past 20 years, cancer caused 66 percent of the career firefighter line-of-duty deaths. Data has proven that firefighters have higher risk of being diagnosed and dying from cancer than the general U.S. population. The evidence is clear that cancer is, and will continue to be the leading occupational illness affecting firefighters, said PFANJ President Steve Steve McConlogue. “The PFANJ has led the way to pass legislation bringing firefighter cancer screenings to New Jersey career firefighters, and we proudly stand with our friend, Congressman Gottheimer to help bring these life saving tests to firefighters across America, and we applaud him for championing this legislation.”

“On behalf of the 100,000 members we are proud to represent, especially the over 6,000 firefighters, EMTs, and dispatchers of the NJ FMBA, IAEP, and NAGE EMS, NAGE is proud to support this important piece of legislation,” said National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) National President David J. Holway. “I can’t think of a more awesome responsibility of our lawmakers than to protect those who have given so much of themselves to protect our communities. This funding, which will provide regular testing for cancer, and will allow for early treatment, cannot come soon enough.”

“Firefighters put their lives at risk to help others in the moments when they need it the most. But risk follows, even when they walk away from a fire,” said New Jersey State Senator Linda Greenstein. “Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters. Here in New Jersey, I’m incredibly proud that we’ve taken steps to secure access to routine cancer screenings. Now, with Congressman Gottheimer’s partnership at the federal level, we can take further action to save the lives of the people who protect ours.”

“I stand with Congressman Josh Gottheimer as he advocates bringing the free pre-cancer screenings that professional firefighters are provided with here in our Great State to this Country as a whole. I have heard firsthand from firefighters throughout our State who have benefitted from this policy by being given the opportunity to have their cancer diagnosed at an early enough stage so they can have a real chance of overcoming a disease that has taken the lives of countless firefighters. This policy will provide State Governments with the resources they need to save countless lives just like we are here in New Jersey. I look forward to doing whatever I can to support Congressman Gottheimer in this initiative and hearing more stories of lives saved far and beyond the borders of our Great State,” said New Jersey Assemblyman Sterley Stanley.

Gottheimer was joined at the Hackensack Fire Department by New Jersey State Senators Linda Greenstein and Gordon Johnson, Hackensack Fire Chief Thomas Freeman, FMBA President Eddie Donnelly, PFANJ President Steve McConlogue, PFANJ First Vice President Matthew Caliente, New Jersey State Firemen’s Association President Robert F. Ordway, New Jersey State Firemen’s Association Vice President Joe Hankins, Rob Ziegler, who is a former firefighterbattling cancer, and New Jersey firefighters.

Video of the announcement can be found here. 

Below: Gottheimer in Hackensack announcing his new FIRE Cancer Act to provide all firefighters with early cancer detection tests.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. It’s great to be here at the Hackensack Fire House with so many of New Jersey’s bravest. Thank you, Chief Freeman, for opening your doors to us and for your dedicated service to our nearby communities. 

Chief, can you please lead us in the pledge? 

Before I continue, I’d like to take a moment of silence to remember Teaneck resident and FDNY Firefighter Mark Batistia who tragically lost his life while heroically rescuing his drowning daughter last week at the Jersey Shore. May his memory be a blessing.

Unfortunately, this year alone we’ve already lost 30 firefighters across our country responding to fires — including, sadly, this year, a firefighter in my District in Sussex County — Tony Duivenvoorde, a longtime firefighter and life member of Sussex Borough Fire & EMS who was responding to multiple calls in April.

And, unfortunately, Hackensack has had three firefighters die of cancer in the last 15 years.

I want to thank our brave first responders for everything you do to keep our communities and country safe, not only from fires, but from floods, fires, terror, and other serious threats to our homeland — not to mention what you do on the EMT front. 

I couldn’t have more respect for the critical and dangerous work that you take on — running directly into the fire and danger when others are running out. And because of that, we must always get your backs — and that’s exactly why we are here today. To protect you.

Everyone knows about the immediate dangers our firefighters face when they run into a burning building. But, what’s not often talked about nearly enough is the silent killer they come home with after putting out the fire. Between 2002 and 2019, cancer caused 66 percent of the professional firefighter line-of-duty deaths.  In fact, firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer, than the general American population.

This is because, when they’re responding to a fire, our firefighters are often exposed to toxic chemicals at high levels, including cancer-causing carcinogens present during their responses and at the fire station on their turnout gear. Think about what’s burning when there’s a fire and that black smoke is billowing — what’s on fire is often plastic or electronics and anything else in your house. That can’t be good to inadvertently inhale or have coating a uniform.

Now, here’s the good news: we have made advances in medicine that allow us to detect cancer early in our firefighters through multi-cancer early detection testing. These include a blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancers using technology from biotech companies like GRAIL and through advancements in ultrasound screenings.

In the cancer screening program, patients will be rotated through three providers — a cardiopulmonary group for skin, mouth, and lymph node evaluations, a blood testing for cancer screening, and an ultrasound screening for thyroid, bladder, and testicular cancer.

Last year, GRAIL published the results of a study of almost 6,700 participants aged 50 years or over. Of 92 participants flagged with a potential cancer signal, about 35 participants were diagnosed with cancer. All but 10 of these diagnoses were for cancers that did not have routine cancer screening programs in place.

This type of test won’t replace our other aggressive screening tests, but it’s a helpful additional test for high-risk individuals like firefighters. That’s because we know those more traditional screenings only find 30 percent of cancers.

Our union leadership told me about a 38-year-old New Jersey firefighter who was always in great health but had the opportunity to get a cancer detection ultrasound through the new state Firefighter Cancer Screening Program. Just days later, he got a call that they discovered a nodule on his thyroid. Thankfully, he was then referred for more tests. He had a biopsy which came back benign but based on the location and type of the nodule, his doctor believed it could be cancerous and recommended a lobectomy of his right thyroid. 

He said that if there is anything to take from his story, it’s that without early detection testing, he wouldn’t have found this problem until it was much more advanced.

I even got the test done myself to see exactly how it worked — it was quick and easy.  

Let me make this very clear: early cancer detection saves lives and the firefighters standing next to me here today need resources to access cancer testing.

Thankfully, we live in a state that gets the upside of early detection for our firefighters and has already taken concrete action. Thanks to phenomenal leadership of Senator Linda Greenstein, who we are lucky to have here today, and the path-breaking Assemblyman Sterley Stanley, the New Jersey legislature passed, and Governor Murphy signed into law, legislation that helps our professional firefighters access this type of cancer testing. Let’s give Linda a round of applause. 

My understanding is that part of the inspiration for their bill is that her aide Sarah’s husband Glen is a firefighter battling cancer. We are praying for him and Sarah.

Now, she is working with my good friend and another great leader, Senator Vin Gopal, and Assemblyman Stanley, to get the same screenings for our volunteer firefighters. 

And none of this could have happened, and, frankly, so much else to protect our firefighters, without the leadership of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, President Steve McConlogue, and everyone at PFANJ — and the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association, President Eddie Donnelly, and everyone at FMBA. As Steve told me, this wasn’t an easy fight in the state legislature, and Jersey has led the way, and Eddie reinforced the importance of getting this done nationally when he was in Washington a few weeks back. 

In New Jersey, since the state legislation was signed into law, 61 percent of firefighters screened have had at least one indication of cancer requiring action. That’s incredible. Think how many lives will be saved because of it. 

As I pointed out, our State Legislature needs to finish the job now and pass legislation and ensure that all volunteer and professional firefighters are covered for cancer tests.

It’s completely unacceptable that all of the 34,000 firefighters in New Jersey and the 1.2 million firefighters across the country who literally put their lives on the line to keep us safe aren’t all getting the care they deserve, and, again, I want to thank Senators Greenstein and Gopal and Assemblyman Stanley for pushing to get this done. In the coming weeks, as the State is finalizing the budget, we can also directly allocate resources to make this happen. 

I urge the legislature to make this investment in the men and women who get our backs every day.  

But, let’s be honest, it shouldn’t just be in Jersey. Every firefighter across the country should have access to these lifesaving cancer tests. 

That’s why today, I’m proudly announcing new bipartisan federal legislation, the Firefighter Investments to Recognize Exposure to Cancer Act, known as the FIRE Cancer Act, which will provide federal investments, so that all firefightersacross America can get multi-cancer early detection tests and other preventative tests — no matter if they’re volunteer or professional firefighter. 

The legislation is backed by the New Jersey FMBA, the International Association of Fire Fighters, PFANJ, the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association, and the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE). 

The bottom line is that if you are a firefighter, you should be screened for cancer on a regular basis at no out-of-pocket cost. This is the least we can do for the sacrifices they make.

As for Jersey, we need to claw our federal tax dollars back from Washington, so that every firefighter who wants to can get scanned and we can take that financial burden off the state, county, and local budgets.

The FIRE Cancer Act will help do just that.

For seven years now, in Congress, I’ve also fought tirelessly for other legislation that supports our first responders, including the bipartisan Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, which created the National Firefighter Registry for Cancer that the CDC officially launched two months ago That program will help track incidences of cancer among firefighters to better understand the causes and, based on what they learn, give departments information to better protect our bravest. 

On top of that, I’ve fought for passage of the Michael Lecik Military Firefighters Protection Act, the Never Forget the Heroes Act to extend the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act, and the bipartisan Federal Firefighters Fairness Act. Each of these bills will ensure that firefighters get the disability, health, and retirement protections and benefits they’ve earned through their heroic service.

I’ve also fought, every year, to fund the Assistance to Firefighters Grants — or AFG — program, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, known as the SAFER program, and the 1033 surplus program. They help our towns and fire departments pay for everything from training to radios to air packs and washers and dryers to help keep carcinogens off uniforms.

Overall, since I was elected here in the Fifth District, we are up more than 357 percent in what we’ve clawed back to Jersey from Washington and away from the Moocher States, taking a major financial weight off our town and county budgets, and helping lower the property tax burden on our families. This includes more than $7 million in AFG, more than $3 million in SAFER grants, and nearly $20 million through the 1033 program since 2017.

We need to help the hundreds of fire departments across our state who already operate with limited budgets and, thankfully, large numbers of volunteers and professionals.

Looking out for our first responders and clawing our tax dollars back home is not a Democrat or Republican issue — it’s purely a what’s good for Jersey issue. What’s good for America issue. 

Thank you to everyone joining us today, for your service, for fighting for Jersey Values, and for supporting our great communities. I will never forget the sacrifices you make so that my family, and those across New Jersey are safe.  

By all of us working together, like we are today, I know that our best days will always be ahead of us.

God bless you, God bless our first responders and troops, God bless all of our firefighters we have lost and their families, and may God continue to bless and watch over the United States of America.

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