Lawmaker asks for state registry on firefighters with cancer

On Thursday, a Minnesota lawmaker will introduce a bill to create a statewide firefighter cancer registry.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firefighters are at a two to three times greater risk of getting some cancers than the general public. These are only estimates because there is no hard data on the number of firefighters who get the disease. The Fox 9 Investigators profiled the issue earlier this month.

State Representative Peggy Bennett, from Albert Lea, hopes to start keeping track of those who get diagnosed.

Three firefighters from her community were recently diagnosed with cancer within about a year.

Brett Boss, a marathon runner, was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer at 31. Another member of the team was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Arson Investigator Doug Johnson was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. He died three months ago at age 51. 

"I look at our firefighters as our heroes," said Bennett. "They do a good service. I'd like to do a good service back for them."

Bennett's proposal calls for the health department to keep firefighters anonymous in the registry. 

"Lots of researchers are interested in getting the data," she said.

The greatest risk comes from the carcinogenic soot that sticks to a firefighter's gear and the exposure can continue long after the fire is out.

Earlier this month, a bill was introduced into Congress that would essentially create the same kind of cancer registry, but would do it on a national level. 


The Fox 9 Investigators surveyed 100 fire departments in Minnesota this month, and discovered one in five departments had at least one firefighter diagnosed with cancer. One in ten had multiple cases.  Lung cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma were the most common.

According to the survey, 20 percent haven't taken any education or prevention measures. 

Only 67 percent of the departments have a specialized washing machine for their gear, called an extractor.

87 percent don't have a second set of gear for each firefighter.

68 percent don't have a spare hood for each firefighter.