Firefighter safety bill advances out of Indiana House committee

Published: Jan. 30, 2023 at 6:17 PM EST
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INDIANAPOLIS (WNDU) - A bill that advanced out of an Indiana House committee on Monday would test the blood of 1,000 firefighters.

The measure has a strong South Bend connection. House Bill 1219 is authored by Ind. Rep. Maureen Bauer of South Bend and City Fire Chief Carl Buchanon testified on Monday in favor of the measure before the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs and Public Safety.

In 2019, when South Bend firefighter Josh Comeau lost his battle with brain cancer, it was assumed that on the job exposure to toxins was to blame.

“For many firefighters, it’s not a question of if they will get cancer, but when,” Rep. Bauer told committee members.

Bauer challenged the panel to support a bill to test the blood of 1,000 current and former firefighters for PFAS levels. PFAS is a man made chemical commonly associated with a type of firefighting foam. It has even been found in some firefighter turnout gear.

Prolonged exposure to PFAS is believed to be one reason why cancer is now the leading cause of death for call of duty firefighters.

“Ideally, it will encourage members of the fire service, if they test with higher blood levels for PFAS that they will then have more frequent checkups and doctor appointments and monitor it a little better. There is no treatment for PFAS,” Rep. Bauer said.

It became clear today that the future of firefighting itself could be at stake. “We’re managing the theoretical situation. We’re using common sense. We’re cleaning our gear. We’re doing everything that we can, but we’re still being diagnosed with cancer and other health effects at a higher rate than the general public. This is where you guys come into play. This is where we need your help. We need this bill to go through so we can finally put some science behind it. Some numbers. Some data, so we can actually see what is getting, what is helping, what’s getting our numbers where we need to be,” said South Bend firefighter Eric Griffin. “But even in my 12 years it’s probably too late for us, but we’re looking into the future. The future of our department and hopefully improving forward, we can do better than them and return this to the great career it’s been for the rest of us.”

“In my 37 years, I’m sure I’m not cancer free,” said Chief Carl Buchanon with the South Bend Fire Department. “I don’t know for sure, but I’m hoping that this bio-monitoring testing is going to determine whether I am or not and maybe it’ll help me, but I’m more concerned with those that’s after me.”

Mike Whited with the Indiana Professional Firefighters Association added, “once we get enough of this data, we can compile it and start looking at the correlation between PFAS levels in firefighters’ blood and the cancer rate, and the logistics of where this has happened at.”

The measure was passed 13 to 0 by the Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee. It now heads to the fiscal folks on the fourth floor seeking a $200,000 appropriation. The entire bio-monitoring pilot project is expected to cost closer to $400,000. There was talk of the state money being used to match a federal grant totally fund the testing pilot.