2017-07-27 / Editorial

Policy, not just recognition needed for firefighters

Beyond the Headlines
by Rep. Justin Chenette

Saco Fire Chief John Duross is an exemplary man. He embodies not just the qualities of a great fire chief, but of a great leader. He genuinely cares for each person he comes into contact with. His passion for helping others exudes through his calm and steady demeanor, which comes in handy when the going gets tough on fire calls and at the fire station. Everyone I talk to about John says similar things as well. John’s commitment to the institution of public safety is noteworthy. He coaches and mentors up and coming firefighters and EMS responders to ensure no matter who holds the chief’s seat, the show goes on.

It’s been an honor getting to know John over the years and working with him on issues such as the safety of our brave local heroes. In front of his immediate family and colleagues at the Saco Fire Station, organized by his wife Prudence, I presented John an official legislative sentiment on behalf of the entire Legislature. Congrats to Chief Duross on your York County Chiefs Lifetime Achievement Award. I know he’s not done yet, but it’s important to stop and take in accomplishments that often we don’t see and might seem to go unrecognized, The city of Saco is lucky to have you. You make our community proud.

That being said, it’s important not just to recognize individuals like John who serve with such distinction, we must also back up our praise with policies that support our firefighters.

This past legislative session there were a number of bills we took up aiming to listen to the needs of our first responders including firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement. Their safety is important as they seek to protect us.

An Act To Protect the Health and Safety of First Responders aims to tackle the issue first responders face of becoming infected by blood-borne pathogens from individuals on the scene. The unfortunate reality is that some people actually want a law enforcement officer, paramedic or firefighter to get stuck by a needle or be exposed to a potentially deadly blood-borne pathogen. It’s a crazy world we live in, so we must do all we can to send a clear message that this type of behavior is not only not OK, but dangerous to the public safety individuals trying to do their job and help you. This bill passed and has since become law.

The other bill has to do with something that impacts every single firefighter out there; the high risk of cancer.

Did you know cancer is the number one cause of lineof duty deaths among professional firefighters? Actually, firefighters get more than 10 types of cancer more than the general population due to the nature of their profession.

There is no way to simply stop cancer with one bill or law, but there are common sense measures we can put in place to make it less likely.

Something you might not think about is what happens during a fire, specifically the furniture that catches fire. There are flame retardants in many of the pieces of furniture we buy today. Companies claim adding these toxic chemicals to the furniture help prevent fires, but in actuality they make the fires more dangerous when they burn, producing cancer-causing gases. These gases are called dioxins and furans. Some manufacturers have taken the proactive step in stopping the use of them in their products including IKEA and La-Z-Boy.

In talking with furniture business owners, like the Senate chairman of my committee, Sen. Dana Dow of Dow Furniture, this wouldn’t be a burden to business. It’s a win-win. We should be doing everything we can to tackle the high rates of cancer in our fire responders. They put their lives on the line just to battle the blaze, let alone the after effects of breathing in cancer causing chemical gases that could be prevented.

In a strong show of bipartisanship, we banded together in the House and the Senate to overwhelmingly pass this bill and ban the future sale of any furniture that contains flame-retardant chemicals.

We must never forget to go beyond our words and take action for those who do so much for us and the safety of those in our community.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is the owner of Chenette Media LLC, a marketing & public relations firm, works as the Marketing Coordinator of Saco Sport & Fitness, and is the president/ CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/JustinChenette.

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