Sick of watching fellow firefighters die too soon, the head of the New Jersey State Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Association praised a proposed federal plan designed to examine the relationship between cancer and firefighters' career-long exposure to toxic fumes.

Ed Donnelly, president of the New Jersey State Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Association, speaks in support of the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act. (Office of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez)

"Our firefighters of New Jersey, our first responders of New Jersey, are dying of cancer due to the toxins and carcinogens that we're breathing in and are getting on our skins," Ed Donnelly told New Jersey 101.5. "Our members are coming down with rare and different types of cancers due to the exposures that we're having."

The issue has been in the spotlight since the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks on Sep. 11, 2001. But according to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, D-NJ, there's been "very little attention" paid to a firefighter's routine, daily exposure to dangerous toxins over the course of their entire career.

Menendez, joined by firefighters from across the state on Thursday, unveiled a bipartisan bill titled the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.

Under the act, cancer-stricken firefighters — volunteer and paid — have the opportunity to join a registry that would help doctors and researchers study, quantify and understand the cancer risk among firefighters.

"And it's our hope that by doing so... we can develop ways of protecting them and preventing cancer," Menendez said.

Those protections can come in the form of more sophisticated safety protocols or upgraded equipment to be worn on the scene of a fire.

"When a house is engulfed, there's all types of toxins and carcinogens being released into the air," Menendez added. "We need to protect those who protect us."

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