Hundreds of IAFF affiliate leaders gathered for a rally at the U.S. Capitol to urge Congress to pass priority legislation for fire fighters, including a bill to help fund the research and development of next-generation, PFAS-free protective gear.
Gathering on a blustery winter day at the end of the 2023 Alfred K. Whitehead IAFF Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., fire fighters from across the United States held signs proclaiming, “Protect Fire Fighters from Cancer” and “Fire Fighters Need PFAS-Free Gear.”
“We need to get these toxic carcinogens out of the manufacturing process of our bunker gear. To do that we need partners,” said General President Edward Kelly. “We’ve said all along, we’re not Republicans or Democrats, we’re not red, we’re not blue, we’re fire fighters through and through. We support those who support us. We need help on both sides of the aisle to effect this change.”
Fire fighters were joined at the rally by several lawmakers committed to standing with fire fighters in their fight to remove PFAS “forever chemicals” from turnout gear. The lawmakers also showed their support for bills to classify occupational cancer deaths as line-of-duty deaths, protect fire fighters’ free speech on the job, provide collective bargaining for all public employees, and provide fire fighters who retire before becoming Medicare eligible with a tax credit to offset the costs of temporary health insurance.
Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR), who took office in January, indicated she would have fire fighters backs as they push their issues through Congress. “Whatever I can do to be your eyes and ears, not only in Oregon but at the federal level, I will do that for you all. We are here to support you.”
Voicing her support for the Protecting Firefighters and Advancing PFAS Alternatives Act, Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA), who IAFF General Secretary-Treasurer Frank Líma called the newest champion in Congress for the IAFF, said: “It does not make sense that we encourage and demand that you put your lives on the line and to know that we (Congress) don’t have your backs. Please know that I will − and Congress will − stand with you to help right this wrong to remove PFAS in the gear.”
Rep. Greg Landsmen (D-OH), also throwing his support behind removing PFAS from fire fighter turnout gear, said: “We know how much you put on the line, and it is a lot more than what a lot of people realize.”
Lawmakers also acknowledged the critical importance of quality healthcare for fire fighters not just while on the job but when they retire. “Despite the critical public service that you provide, fire fighters are always having to search for healthcare on their own. American fire fighters have always had our backs, now it is time for Congress to have yours,” said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS).
A physician and a strong supporter of AFG and SAFER grants – which fund critical equipment and protective gear purchases for fire fighters, and resources for additional staffing – and the federal fire fighter cancer legislation, Marshall was also adamant in his support for fighting cancer in the fire service. “Raging fires aren’t the only thing that threaten fire fighters lives, and we know that now. You’re exposed to dangerous cancer toxins, and the protective equipment you’re wearing now also has the PFAS in it … and I’m just baffled as a physician how we’ve let this go on.”
After the rally, contingents of IAFF members headed to Capitol Hill to advocate for key legislative issues with their members of Congress.