As the widow of a career firefighter and fire chief who suffered for 3½ years with a rare form of cancer, I can tell you about the devastating costs of cancer in the fire service. Firefighter wives are widowed every year by the cancers our husbands contract on the job. In fact, cancer has become a leading cause of workplace-related death in the fire service.
Firefighter cancer is linked to the deadly chemicals firefighters are exposed to on the job. Toxic flame retardants used in household furniture have been linked with cancer, learning disabilities and reproductive disorders. On top of that, we now know that flame retardants don’t actually help prevent fires. It’s a lose-lose situation.
In these polarized times, I have been incredibly heartened to see the powerful bipartisan support for LD 182, a bill that would protect Maine firefighters — and all of us — from flame retardants in household furniture. Many furniture manufacturers already have phased out the use of flame retardants, and they are to be commended. This bill will get the remaining furniture makers to remove these toxic chemicals from their products before more Maine families suffer the consequences of exposure.
In a moment of such heart-wrenching political gridlock at both the state and federal levels, it gives me tremendous hope to see my friends on both sides of the aisle coming together to stand up for our firefighters and all emergency responders. This spring, the Maine Senate voted 34-1 to support this legislation, and the House voted 139-5 in favor. This was an historic moment, and also an emotional one for those of us who have lost loved ones to cancer in the fire service. For me, it was also a powerful reminder that while we don’t agree on everything, we still have more common ground than we realize.
I know I stand with hundreds of families of firefighters across Maine when I applaud the bipartisan leadership that has brought this issue so close to the finish line. I have two sons in the fire service, and I worry for them everyday. I could not bear to look one more firefighter in the eye and tell him this bill we’ve all fought so hard for just got caught in the political morass at the 11th hour. We owe it to Maine’s heroes, our firefighters, to get this done.
Linda Baker is a former Republican state senator. She is the widow of a fire chief who died of cancer.