Op-Ed: Putting First Responders First

The following opinion essay is by Tim Gavin, a Democrat running for state Senate in the 28th District, which represents the towns of Fairfield, Easton, Newtown and Bethel.

During my time as an Army officer, I saw first hand the impacts of toxic hazards.

I had a soldier under my command suffer the consequences of being exposed to a burn pit. He was 30 years old, never smoked, and regularly exercised, but had to go through an extended VA claims process to prove that his cancer was service-related, in order to get the care that he deserved.

Recently, Congress passed the PACT Act to provide care to those exposed to toxins while serving our country. But here in Connecticut, we must also provide proper care to those who serve us: our firefighters.

Every year, they receive thousands of calls, from our community and surrounding towns, to put out fires, respond to cardiac arrests and other medical emergencies, and save lives at car crashes. We leaned heavily on them during the pandemic. We expressed gratitude with yard signs and banners.

Now, they need us to fight for their right to presumptive cancer coverage. Connecticut still does not have robust, sustainably-funded coverage for firefighters when they are diagnosed with job-related cancer. These cancers are not a coincidence; they are the direct result of exposures that come from the job. Cancer is now the number one killer of firefighters. In fact, at the 2022 Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial, 348 firefighters of the recently honored 469 names – about 75 percent – had passed away due to occupational cancer.

What’s more, the job is becoming increasingly more dangerous. A report from the National Fire Protection Association earlier this month found that house fire deaths were at a 14-year high in 2021, despite house fires declining significantly in the past two decades. More synthetics in our furniture and carpets resulting in homes catching fire faster and collapsing more quickly from the increased heat. In addition to cancer coverage, we must ensure our firefighters are sufficiently staffed to best respond to life-or-death situations and mitigate the increased risks they are taking in the line of duty.

Our firefighters play a critical role in keeping our communities safe, but we have to hold up our end of the bargain. Legislators must prioritize getting our first responders the resources they need.

That’s why, if elected to the State Senate, I will fight to ensure that our firefighters and first responders have the means to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.

We need to invest in replacing aging equipment, ensuring appropriate staffing, and providing coverage for illnesses they contract as part of their work.

It’s time to put our first responders first.

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