ROANOKE Co., Va - Firefighters across the Commonwealth are marching for better protections and support for line of duty cancers. State laws don't cover everything firefighters feel they should and they want to see a change.
This is the first time firefighters have done this kind of formal march in support oft he cause. A crew from Roanoke County was there, given support by Chief Steve Simon to make it happen. And they said they're getting close to desperation levels to try to end the deadly trend.
Firefighters responded to the call in Richmond Tuesday, and this time it was a call helping themselves. Hundreds marched to support expanding the way cancer is viewed in firefighting, including a crew from Roanoke County.
"It is the number one cause of our line of duty deaths and, something needs to change and we're really, really hoping our legislators will support us," Roanoke County Firefighters Union president Greg Sazonov said.
For the third year, a bill is before lawmakers to expand coverage for cancer and to expand its coverage under official line of duty deaths. They're hoping for a different outcome this time, but the fire service in general is also being proactive and not waiting for lawmakers to tell them what to do.
Roanoke County is an example, where at Fire Station No. 1 turnout gear is kept in a sealed off room separate from deisel exaughst and living quarters.
"I think there's been a huge shift in mentality as far as cancer and cancer prevention in the fire service," Roanoke County Fire and Rescue community outreach coordinator Brian Clingenpeel said.
Firefighters are statistically more likely to develop cancer than others. Changes in the way they do things, like high power gear washers, decontamination kits to be used on scnee, and keeping living quarters separate from garage space are happening withought lawmakers direction.
"I think we're probably as a fire service as a whole we're probably behind the 8 ball a little bit, but we're aware of it and changes are starting to be made," Clingenpeel said.
But firefighters are hoping lawmakers can help them make those changes happen faster and make them more uniform across the board. When left up to individual departments there can be things that fall through the cracks, not offering the best protection possible for the thousands of career and volunteer firefighters across the state. They also worry if the legislation fails yet again this year, what else has to give?
"It's a small investment right now in maybe capital or maybe education of our personnel, but it's hopefully not allowing (someone to devleop cancer,) Sazonov said.
There is a new registry enacted by President Trump to try to track people affected by line of duty cancers. Firefighters are expected to continue meeting with lawmakers through the week.
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