Law seeks to eliminate cancer causing chemicals from firefighter protective clothing

Following the lead of San Francisco's supervisors and mayor, SF Assembly member Matt Haney has proposed a law, almost certain to pass overwhelmingly, that will protect firefighters' lives from their own protective firefighter clothing.

Haney's bill would ban cancer-causing chemicals, helpful as they are to make firefighter turnout gear more fire-resistant, from ever being used in such gear again. 

That gear is supposed to protect them. "But, right now, that gear is itself harming our firefighters and causing health damage that can be long-lasting and even deadly," said Assemblyman Matt Haney, (D) San Francisco.

Haney's bill says that as soon at non-cancerous fire gear is available, California's firefighters will get it. "66% of the deaths of firefighters over the last 20 years, have been from cancer. It used to be that heart disease was the biggest killer of firefighters. Now, it is cancer," said the Assemblyman.

To prove it, Haney invited still active Sacramento Fire Captain Carl Jewell, who has lymphoma. It's now in remission. But who knows for how long?

"As you can imagine, it was very devastating for our family. And, two little girls, trying to break the news to them that I have cancer and I don't know how it's gonna turn out, is the hardest thing that I've had to do," said Captain Jewell.

A firefighter walks through a wall of smoke while keeping tabs on a prescribed burn.

Retired SF firefighter Tony Stefani is also a cancer survivor. "I had the pleasure of serving San Francisco for 28 years. I retired as a captain and, sad to say, I had to retire because of a diagnosis of kidney cancer," said Stefani,

Captain Stefani now heads up the San Francisco Cancer Prevention Foundation. "We're tired of going to funerals, on a monthly basis, of another active or retired firefighter that has passed away," he said.

There's an old saying that it's the dose that makes the poison. Well, firefighters are getting a dose of cancer exposure every time they respond to a call. That just keeps on adding up.