My Turn: Fulfill the promise to firefighters

For the Monitor
Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Capt. Dan Pesula served the Hooksett community for 18½ years as a faithful employee of Hooksett Fire Rescue.

He never smoked, he didn’t drink, and was arguably the healthiest, most-fit member on our department. He took care of himself and his crew through exercise and cancer-prevention measures well-known around the country, including cleansing of his personal protective equipment and immediate showers upon return from a fire call. However, these measures of a careful, model lifestyle were not enough to protect him from what led to his death in June 2016.

In December 2014, Capt. Pesula suddenly began having unresolved kidney stones and infections. As these medical issues continued, he had imaging done and the results were devastating. The cancer, which originated in his colon, was Stage 4 and had spread to his liver, lungs and bladder. Due to this diagnosis, Capt. Pesula was not cleared to return to work. He fought hard, doing everything he could in the hope that he could return someday to the job he loved so much. He was on short-term disability, which led to long-term disability. Faced with the inevitable, Capt. Pesula was eventually forced to make the difficult decision to retire from the department. Unsure if he would be able to keep his insurance, Capt. Pesula now had fears of whether or not he would be able to continue his cancer care and treatment.

As a result of his retirement, Capt. Pesula went ten months on a reduced income and no medical subsidy to cover the astronomical treatment expenses. He did not at any point before this, wish to become a charity case, but knew when to swallow his pride and ask his coworkers for help. We – his co-workers, family, and friends – led fundraising efforts throughout the community during this trying time, including selling T-shirts, wristbands and holding special fundraising events. Much of these funds were used to cover his medical expenses to continue the care he was receiving in Boston.

All this time, firefighters and friends from around the community rallied together to help Capt. Pesula and his family around the house in Penacook, doing yard work, shoveling his driveway, putting up Christmas lights and other tasks. We did whatever we could to help a man who spent his life and career helping others. I promised Dan that if anything bad were to happen to him, I and the rest of fire department would watch over his wife and children, always be there for them and never let them forget about their father. Capt. Pesula passed in June of 2016. To this day, our department remains close with the Pesula family. We continue to help his family at their home and always make a point to attend his children’s sporting events.

Senate Bill 541 by Sen. Dan Innis fulfills a promise made to firefighters by the Legislature in 1987, recognizing firefighters are at a higher risk of cancer diagnosis and death as a result of their job. This is not just a theory; this is a known fact, backed by years of study and research.

New Hampshire was one of the first states to institute this presumption law, and since then more than 30 other states have followed suit. Unfortunately this was an unfunded mandate. By passing this bill, families like the Pesulas would be given the financial assistance they deserve for a work-related disease. In memory of our late Capt. Dan Pesula of Hooksett Fire Rescue Department and countless other firefighters across New Hampshire who have been taken by cancer, I implore the New Hampshire Senate, House and Gov. Chris Sununu to honor this promise made to those on the front lines.

(Capt. Joseph P. Stalker works for the Hooksett Fire Rescue Department.)