The Nantucket Board of Health has penned a letter urging the town to pay for additional screenings and physical exams for the island's firefighters in light of their heightened risks for cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The letter - which will be sent to town manager Libby Gibson and fire chief Michael Cranson - garnered the unanimous support of the members of the Board of Health during last week's meeting. It was prompted by a recent consultant's report on the health issues facing island firefighters related to both their exposure and staffing levels.
That report prompted a wide-ranging board discussion last month and led Board of Health and Select Board member Dr. Malcolm MacNab to conduct his own research and write the letter for consideration.
"That report was comprehensive, but it didn't have a lot of documentation for what it was saying, to put it bluntly, so I agreed to do a little research, dig into the issue, and sent to you a draft," MacNab said.
"There is no question that firefighters have a higher risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease than the average citizen," he added, citing a program recommended by the International Association of Fire Fighters for particular cancer screenings and physical exams for firefighters. "Firefighters have asked the town on various occasions to implement that, but that has not been accepted. They do have health insurance, but certainly, a full screening program would cost more money. So what this letter says from all of us is essentially that we're recommending and encouraging the town to institute the program recommended by the firefighter protection association for cancer screening and physical exams."
Given the staffing situation outlined in the consultant's report, Board of Health member Kerry McKenna said the screenings were even more important for the members of the Nantucket Fire Department.
"Our firefighters, because of not having full staff, are getting more exposure because they're serving more," McKenna said. "The smaller group of people have to do all the work. So their exposure may be more than a firefighter on the mainland."
According to the federal Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters, and research suggests firefighters are at higher risk of certain types of cancers when compared to the general population.
"It's pretty strong," Board of Health member Ann Smith said of the letter. "They've got to take this seriously."