PFFNH legislative priorities focus on early cancer detection and prevention  

New Hampshire fire fighters are focused on passing two pieces of legislation: one that would create a pilot program to provide cancer screenings to career fire fighters and another that would encourage the use of PFAS-free fire fighter gear.

March 22 • 2024

Doctors were convinced Jess Wyman had pneumonia. Weeks of treatment went by, but Wyman, a retired Nashua, NH Local 789 member, was not getting better. On Jan. 5, 2023, a CT scan revealed Wyman had Stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to her bones. 

Wyman had been diligent about getting her annual fire department physicals, but none of those included cancer screenings. Her cancer, in its earlier stages, had gone undetected.  

She lost her battle in November 2023.  

Since then, her husband, Hudson Local 3154 member Chris Wyman, has advocated for the passage of SB 352, which would establish an early detection cancer screening pilot program for retired and active career fire fighters across the state.  

“I was testifying during a Senate hearing about this bill about 60 days after losing my wife. It was hard,” Chris Wyman said. “But I did it because I believe that if our story can prevent even one fire fighter family from having to go through the same thing we did, it will be worth it.” 

The legislation cleared the state Senate and now is in the House for consideration. It builds on the successful passage of SB 71 last year, which recognizes all types of cancer as presumed occupational illness. 

If passed, a two-year cancer screening program would be available to about 4,000 New Hampshire fire fighters. The screening would include a blood test, an ultrasound of vital organs, a lung CT if indicated, and a skin cancer screening. 
The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Sharon Carson, recently told that she hopes it will help health insurance companies see the wisdom in cancer screenings.  
“You’re spending money up front to really ensure that someone’s healthy, rather than spending a heck of a lot of money when they get sick,” she said. 

Manchester, NH Local 3820 Secretary-Treasurer Peter Lennon is living proof that screenings save lives.  

Lennon’s cancer was found during a screening program offered through a partnership among the Manchester Fire Department, Dartmouth Health, and Anthem Blue Cross. 

He explained in an article published by the IAFF in January that free cancer screenings should be available to all fire fighters because it is a critical tool for prevention.   

“There’s a lot of [fire fighters] out there, working every day, and having the same symptoms I had and don’t have the means to get screened,” he said. “This will definitely save lives.” 

The state’s Executive Council has approved $50,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide cancer screenings for delegates at PFFNH’s May convention, which will serve as a beta test for the screening program outlined in SB 352. 

“We are looking forward to this early opportunity to provide this important service to our members,” PFFNH President Ryll said. “Catching cancer early is critical when it comes to saving lives. After this event in May and the pilot program (if passed), we hope to be able to make this a permanent service to New Hampshire’s fire fighters.” 

Meanwhile, the PFFNH is also pushing for the passage of HB 1352, which aims to reduce or eliminate fire fighter cancer caused by PFAS exposure. If passed, the legislation would ease the process of switching to PFAS-free turnout gear and personal protective equipment.  

Specifically, it says should a safe alternative be developed, the state’s fire departments would be required to give preference to that alternative. Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, departments would no longer be able to provide apparel containing PFAS as an option. Gear containing fire-resistive chemicals that contain fluorine, chlorine, bromine, lead, or antimony also would not be permitted. Manufacturers of firefighting apparel should provide fire departments with safer alternatives, should they exist. 

In the absence of PFAS-free alternatives, the governor would be required to notify fire fighters about gear that contains PFAS. 

HB 1352 has passed the House and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.