White City, Ore. — So far this wildfire season, more than 672,000 acres have burned in Oregon. That’s about 175,000 more acres than an average year.
While firefighters are focused on putting out the flames, Oregon’s national leadership is working to make sure their health is a long-term priority. Flames aren’t the only threat firefighters face. They can also experience long-term health problems from breathing dangerous air. Now, the government is stepping in to help.
“Firefighters are known to have twice the cancer risk than the general population and so much of it is due to the toxic environment we operate within,” said Deputy Chief Mike Hussey, Fire District 3.
On a day-to-basis, firefighters are exposed to life-threatening conditions.
“Aside from the burns that we might be exposed to, those are relatively low in risk,” Deputy Chief Hussey said.
“This past weekend, I saw first hand what our firefighters face as they battle a number of fires raging Oregon or putting themselves in harm’s way to save property, infrastructure, lives, watershed, habitats, and our forest,” Oregon Representative Greg Walden said.
It’s heroic efforts like those that come with long-term consequences for firefighters.
“Cardiovascular disease, increased respiratory disease, high blood pressure. There’s the trips, falls, injuries associated with trauma, and mental health issues,” Deputy Chief Hussey said.
That’s why Oregon Representative Greg Walden helped pass the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act this week. That act makes it possible for the government to collect data about the effects firefighters suffer, due to smoke inhalation. Ultimately, the registry could help save lives.
“We owe it to these first responders to understand the causal link to cancer and having better data to identify firefighters that are increased risk for some cancers will hopefully lead to better protective measures and ultimately reduce some of the hazards they face,” Representative Walden said.
Firefighters said the act is a much appreciated move forward.
“Recognizing the inherent dangers with the profession and ensuring that our personnel do get the appropriate care after their career or during their career, is a step in the right direction,” Deputy Chief Hussey said.
In addition to the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act. The Energy and Commerce Committee marked up four other bills to promote public health – including the Soar Act of 2017, the Mission Zero Act, the Action for Dental Health Act of 2017, and the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2017.
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