I know a lot about chemicals. My father was a professional firefighter who died of esophageal cancer. After his autopsy, his toxicology report showed that his body carried five chemicals that are flame retardants used in upholstered furniture. Unfortunately, if you’re in the fire service, or have a family member in the fire service, then cancer will always hit close to home. Cancer is the No. 1 cause of line-of-duty deaths for professional firefighters. One of my colleagues in the Legislature is a volunteer fire chief in a small town, and has three firefighters in his small department who have all had brain cancer. Clearly, this is a serious problem for the fire service.

Three of those chemicals found in my father’s autopsy report are ingredients in a commercial mixture of flame retardants called Firemaster 550. Ten years ago, Maine prohibited the sale of furniture containing different chemicals called PBDEs, and Firemaster 550 was one of the substitutes that was supposed to be safer. Unfortunately, these substitute chemicals are now on national and international watch lists due to their health problems. The flame retardants used in furniture today are still associated with cancer, as well as learning disabilities and other health problems for children.

Like most serious problems, there is no single silver bullet solution. L.D. 182, “An Act to Protect Firefighters by Establishing a Prohibition on the Sale and Disribution of New Upholstered Furniture Containing Certain Flame-retardant Chemicals,” takes one important step towards reducing the cancer risk of our heroes in the fire service, by getting unnecessary toxic chemicals out of furniture.

My friend, the Honorable Linda Baker, introduced this bill last year when she was in the Senate. Her husband, Skip Baker, was a fire chief in Brunswick who died of cancer. This year, Linda has been back in the State House fighting for this bill, on behalf of her sons who are also firefighters. So far, the bill has gotten strong bipartisan support, with a vote of 139–5 in the House and 34–0 in the Senate. This week, it was funded by the Appropriations Committee, and now faces more votes in the House and Senate.

If these chemicals were playing a role in saving people’s lives or making firefighters’ jobs easier, then this would be an issue worth debating. But flame retardant chemicals do not improve the safety of our furniture.

Firefighters in Maine have been very clear: flame-retardant chemicals don’t provide life-safety benefits, and they actually make fires more dangerous to first responders. They produce more soot and carbon monoxide, making fires harder to escape. And they produce carcinogenic gases, which could be contributing to our first responders’ high rates of cancer.

In addition to being the son of a firefighter, I’m also a father. I know what its like to have young kids running around my home while I’m trying to keep them safe. Now I know that some of the same chemicals found in my father’s autopsy are the chemicals that were in my couch the whole time our kids were growing up. Flame retardants escape easily from couches and chairs, and end up in household dust, where they can do real harm to children.

Just yesterday, I was really pleased to see that the funding for this bill will come from revenue generated from the Medical Use of Marijuana Fund. It is appropriate that funding generated from drugs used to ease the pain of people suffering from lung, esophageal, and other cancers will be used to help prevent cancer for our firefighters and all first responders, and their families.

We won’t see flame retardants out of our homes right away; it takes some time for people to replace their old couches with new ones. But by acting now to get the last flame retardants out of all home furniture today, we can work towards a healthier future. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle join me in finishing the job on L.D. 182. Let’s get this done for Maine firefighters and families.

Rep. Jeff Pierce, R-Dresden, represents District 53 in the Maine House of Representatives.