By BRANDON DOYEN – WABI
BANGOR, MAINE – Firefighters gathered at the State House Tuesday to urge lawmakers to pass a bill to put an end to toxic flame retardants in furniture.
They were joined by widows whose husbands lost their battles with cancer after careers of protecting their communities.
“My husband died of cancer and I can pinpoint the fire. It was a car fire, but the upholstery burning was what caused his cancer.”
Former Senator Linda Baker lost her husband, Brunswick Fire Chief Skip Baker, in 2001. Last legislative session, she tried to pass a bill to ban toxic flame retardants from upholstered residential furniture, but it never left committee.
Now she’s joining firefighters and lawmakers in supporting another effort to pass a ban this session.
“We know that the job that we have has risks and we can’t eliminate all the risks, and we get that,” said John Martell, President of the Professional Firefighters of Maine.
Health experts say that toxic chemical flame retardants are linked to cancer. Safety experts say flame retardants are not needed to slow fires, and that it’s smoke detectors, sprinklers and safety codes that save lives.
“There are other things in a building when it burns that can harm us, we know that, and that’s what our opponents are saying. But if we know that these chemicals don’t produce the life safety benefits that they’re purporting to do, and if we know that they do cause harmful effects to us as firefighters, then we shouldn’t be using them. We should get rid of them. We need to start somewhere and this is a good first step,” said Martell.
“I didn’t think I was going to be a widow at such an early age. My husband and I were high school sweethearts and we would have been married 48 years this July.”
Therese Flaherty’s husband, Lt. Tim Flaherty of the Portland Fire Department, died of bone cancer in 2011. Therese is hopeful the bill will pass this time around and, like Linda, wants the public’s help.
“Call their legislators, write to their legislators, email- just bury the offices. Just call their office. If it’s a Senator, call the Senate Office and leave a message. Those messages do get passed on. Numbers count,” said Baker.
“He’s my hero and he’ll always be my hero, and anything I can do for all the other heroes, I’ll do it with my heart and soul,” said Flaherty.