BOSTON, MA — Fire officials are sounding the alarm over the death of seven active duty firefighters since late October — a number of them from occupational cancer.
It’s already a dangerous job, but the recent deaths in the region have renewed calls for a focus on safety and training.
“It’s a job we love, a job we will do day in and day out, but it’s killing our men and women in the fire department,” said Richard Paris, president of the Boston Firefighters Local 718. “It doesn’t stop.”
Three out of those seven firefighters who died were from the Boston Fire Department, and one of them was firefighter Eddie Paris, Richard’s brother. He died at age 64 of cancer believed to be linked to his job, leaving behind three children and two grandchildren.
“As my brother Eddie said, he thought he was invincible — but he’s not,” Paris said. “We are educating our firefighters, but our firefighters have to listen to us. It’s not a joke. It’s serious.”
Paris teaches firefighters how to maintain their equipment and take precautions to avoid occupational cancer and other illnesses associated with being a firefighter.
He said he realized the magnitude of how important that work is when he went to visit the late Boston firefighter Jaime Galarza Jr., who, on his deathbed, expressed his condolences. About 24 hours later, Galarza, too, died from occupational cancer.
“What really hit me was that he said he felt bad about my brother, who had passed away five days earlier,” Paris said. “But it kept me strong because I knew I had to do a job as the president of the union. I mourned my brother Eddie, but I had to get back on the saddle, back on that horse to protect our members.”
Richard MacKinnon Jr., president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, said he knew Eddie Paris from his time working as a pension officer with Local 718, and members from his own fire department, both active and retired, who have battled cancer.
“Unfortunately, it’s a reality. It’s killing more firefighters than anything else right now,” MacKinnon said. “It’s driven me to make sure that the right equipment, the right procedures and the right benefits are intact both professionally and personally.”
MacKinnon said that new legislation is a step forward, which Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law in July, allowing firefighters diagnosed with cancer to go on leave with full pay while they receive treatment.
MacKinnon is hoping to work on the legislative level again after finding out that buildings are being constructed and furnished with flame retardants, some filled with harmful chemicals and glues that can increase the risk of cancer. The hope is to pass legislation that will limit the amount and type of chemicals and furniture allowed in a structure, MacKinnon said.
The warning comes as another firefighter, Thaddeus M. Baxter Jr. of Everett, will be laid to rest today.
From The Boston Herald