Budget conference: Chambers far apart on funding for firefighter cancer research

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - MAY, 2018 Firefighters spraying down fire during firefighting training exercise
This year’s request is a 175% increase over last year.

The Legislature’s upper and lower chambers are at odds on what is generally an issue of broad consensus: funding research into cancer risks and prevention for firefighters.

House lawmakers are proposing a $2.25 million earmark this year. The Senate, meanwhile, is proposing $500,000.

Both offers are lowballing the $3.5 million asks Miami Sen. Ileana Garcia and Hialeah Republican Rep. Alex Rizo made in November through matching appropriation requests.

The funding, once agreed upon, would go to the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Miller School of Medicine, which in 2015 launched the Firefighter Cancer Initiative (FCI) to probe a troubling trend.

For years, cancer has been a leading cause of death for firefighters, and researchers believe much of it has to do with exposure to chemicals, including toxic smoke and soot and equipment coated with so-called “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

Congress is considering whether to reauthorize a federal National Firefighter Cancer Registry to track rates nationally. But Florida lawmakers have agreed in-state research is vital too and apportioned millions yearly to the FCI for that purpose, including $2 million last year and in 2022.

Using the requested funds, the FCI plans to expand firefighter access to cancer screenings through its mobile clinic at local fire stations in Miami-Dade County, in remote and rural areas via telemedicine and through a planned satellite resource center serving Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie counties.

There are also plans to expand early detection, education on best practices for cancer risk reduction and prevention, and to work with the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization to improve upon the best research and information available across state and national lines.

“In the absence of state funding,” Sylvester personnel wrote, “FCI would suffer significantly. Because of the Florida Legislature’s generous investment, FCI is at the forefront of the national effort to address the excess cancer risk in firefighters and our goal is to continue to lead in this way. We are, however, always seeking alternative funding sources to support our work, including federal and foundation grants.”

The funding request notes that the FCI expects a $30,000 contribution from a source other than the state. Last year, the federal government chipped in $558,329. No such apportionment is noted in this year’s request.

But on Saturday, record-breaking participation led to a historic charity haul at the 14th annual Dolphins Challenge Cancer at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, where 6,702 attendees raised $12 million in support of Sylvester.

Dozens of first responders participated and walked a 5K in full gear after attending the 2024 International Firefighter Cancer Symposium, a Feb. 22-23 event the FCI team organized and hosted.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Dont Say FLA

    February 28, 2024 at 7:47 am

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