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Tennessee law aims to protect firefighters' health

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Posted at 9:31 PM, Oct 25, 2021

LA VERGNE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Mid-State firefighters put their lives on the line to save others every day, and on top of that, their jobs come with a higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than the general public.

Firefighters in La Vergne hope the Barry Brady Act, which became a state law in Tennessee in 2019, helps firefighters make their health a priority.

David McCallister has proudly served the city of La Vergne as a firefighter for more than seven years. However, last year, his career and life were put on hold after he was diagnosed with colon cancer at 36 years old.

"There was a lot going through my mind," recalled McCallister. "I had just had my first child, and it was pretty scary."

McCallister said he screened for the cancer because of the Barry Brady Act. It was named for Captain Barry Brady, a retired fire captain from the Sparta Fire Department who lost his battle with colon cancer.

The law addresses outdated and dangerous work practices that could expose firefighters to cancer. Under the law, firefighters with at least five years of experience will be compensated if they're diagnosed or die of specific cancers developed on the job. They also have to keep up with annual physicals, checking for those diseases. Currently, the types of cancer included are colon, skin, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma.

For McCallister, the screening resulted in an early diagnosis, quick treatment, and potentially saved his life.

"I feel good. I feel as good as I’ve felt in a really long time," said McCallister.

La Vergne Fire Chief Ronny Beasley said the Barry Brady Act not only provides free annual screenings for the types of cancer covered under the law, but it also works to educate firefighters about the health risks they face on the job.

"Today you have multiple chemicals that make up a just simple couch," said Beasley. "So all those things that are burning in the smoke, float in the air, and they breathe them, they come in contact with skin."

Beasley said each fire truck in La Vergne is equipped with supplies to help decontaminate gear before firefighters leave a scene to help prevent exposure to potentially cancer-causing toxins.

"There are recommendations to how to wash turnout clothes, their uniforms, how to clean their faces, soft tissue areas, before they leave the fire scene so they aren’t carrying it back to the fire station," he said.

McCallister is grateful to be cancer free one year after his diagnosis. He plans to continue with annual colonoscopies to stay healthy.

"I've got a lot of things to be thankful for," McCallister said.

Tennessee is one of 43 states with a law designed to address firefighters' health. The Tennessee Fire Chiefs Association is working to include more types of cancer under the law.