Delegates and alternates unanimously adopted a resolution to provide $500,000 annually to expand and strengthen the IAFF’s ongoing fight against occupational cancer.
One by one, delegates moved to available microphones to voice strong support for adding 9 ½ cents per capita to support and fund research into occupational cancer, which claims the lives of more fire fighters than any other work-related hazard.
IAFF General President Edward Kelly, bucking convention tradition, left the dais and became the first General President to speak from a convention floor in more than 40 years.
“Take a look at those f—-ing walls,” he said, pointing to the large screens at the front of the Shaw Centre hall listing the names of IAFF members who have died in the line of duty since the last convention. “70 percent of those names died of cancer.”
“I have 28 years in this business, so whatever I have been exposed to is a done deal,” Kelly continued. “But one day my 12-year-old kid – who has already beat cancer once – is gonna come on one day and do this job. This war against cancer is never going to end.”
Kelly said the IAFF must take on the fight against cancer head on, noting that manufacturers have been lying to fire fighters for years about PFAS, a known cancer-causing chemical in turnout gear, while making millions of dollars.
Other IAFF leaders and delegates echoed Kelly’s passion urging unanimous approval of Resolution 19. “This is our chance to put our money where our mouth is, for the future of the IAFF and for future IAFF members,” said IAFF General Secretary-Treasurer Frank Líma.
Dr. Danny Whu, M.D., MPH, hired earlier this year to be the IAFF’s first Chief Medical Officer, took note of earlier research into deadly pathogens that pushed the fire service to add more protective gear.
“Gone are the days of showing up at the fire house with blood on your gear. We know now that if you smell like smoke three days after a fire that is cancer you are smelling,” said Whu.
The adoption of the resolution would allow the IAFF to both verify existing research and sponsor its own, according to Whu.
Bryan Jeffries, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, recalled his own bout with cancer, learning soon after an annual trip to the IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial that the pain in his hip was the disease that has claimed so many of his brothers and sisters.
“My doctor said: ‘I am going to have to just about kill you with chemo to save your life.’ Standing here now I see my name could have been on that wall,” said Jeffries. “Our commitment today must be for a Manhattan Project level effort to protect fire fighters from cancer.”
Resolution 19, on top of providing new funding for occupational cancer research, also requires a standing oversight committee led by the General President and the General Secretary-Treasurer, and other members and stakeholders, to oversee distribution of the funds for research.