Chris Conner knows the struggles of cancer-stricken firefighters who are often overwhelmed with high medical bills.
“I know for a fact that a primary need is for financial help,” Conner said. “There is a misconception that [firefighters] have great insurance these days, and we don’t. We all have high deductibles.”
Conner is president of Firefighters Against Cancer and Exposures, or FACEs, which launched last month. It main partner is Laboratory for Advanced Medicine, which developed the IvyGene blood test using DNA patterns to detect the presence of cancer.
Bedford is also working with the laboratory on conducting blood tests of all of the city’s firefighters. “Working together, we realize there is a bigger need than just cancer testing,” said Adam Davis, the firm’s business development manager. “Financial stress leads to other stress.”
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Conner watched the struggles of his friend and fellow firefighter Keith Long, who died in 2016 of stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to his liver and lungs. Before his death he fought unsuccessfully to receive workers compensation benefits, arguing that his cancer was caused by on-the-job exposure to carcinogens.
Although he didn’t live to see it, Long’s family is now receiving those benefits.
A growing concern
Fire departments throughout the country are facing concerns that cancer is becoming more prevalent among firefighters.
For instance, New York City firefighters and other first responders were exposed to toxic dust, debris and chemicals after the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11.
According to the Never Forget Project: “Studies have shown that those exposed to World Trade Center dust were more likely to develop lung problems, respiratory symptoms, sinus problems or asthma. The World Trade Center Health Program also recognizes certain mental health conditions, digestive disorders, musculoskeletal disorders and cancers as being related to 9/11.”
A long way to go
Conner said that over $7,000 has been raised so far and that his goal is to bring in over $1 million a year to help ill firefighters and their families throughout the United States.
He said that when he began researching organizations that assist first responders, he found many that offered emotional support but none that offered financial help for cancer treatments.
“If we can help pay the deductible and that helps make the family’s life a little better ... we can try to take care of a lot of things out there,” Conner said. “We are trying to eliminate a lot of problems by offering help that isn’t out there.”
How to donate
Checks can be payable to “FACES” and sent to 711 Burnet Street, Coppell, TX 75019
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.