WASHINGTON, D.C. — Firefighters have chosen a path riddled with danger — not just from the job but also from the side effects of the job — and Missouri’s chief executive pledged to back them.

“We have the responsibility as state and federal leaders to identify the dangers firefighter are facing and work to provide support and solutions,” Gov. Mike Parson said while addressing more than 700 firefighters from around the country.

Parson was just one of dozen of speakers at the annual Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference hosted by the International Association of Firefighters in the nation’s Capital. The conference helps firefighters nationwide learn about the current political landscape and its impact on programs and policies that affect firefighters along with the opportunity to advocate directly on key issues.

Parson noted in his address Monday that the issues facing firefighters are more than just the dangers of the job. Firefighters are facing high rates of suicide, high rates of cancers, PTSD, and other issues on that.

The toll the job can take from a mental perspective and Parson noted he can empathize with it having served in the military and as sheriff. He also lost his brother-in-law, an EMT, in the line of duty along with a deputy while he was sheriff.

In his time as governor, Parson has also witnessed the work firefighters do and the tragedy they see. He pointed to Table Rock Lake Missouri where duck boats went down in a storm, killing nine people, including a two-year-old.

“I witness several departments responding as one team with the mission of saving lives, recovering the deceased and supporting the families and victims. That team included several fire departments around the area who sprang into action when called upon. They did dangerous and selfless work,” said Parson.  

Firefighting is not a job the average person enters into, Parson pointed out.

“It means a lifetime of accepting risk on behalf of others, it means times away from family and friends to answer the alarm no matter what the emergency, and it means training to deal with the evolving risk of the 21st century,” said Parson. “It is not a work that attracts people that looking to become wealthy or famous. It is a calling for people who what to make a difference and make their communities stronger.”

Mark Woolbright, IAFF 2nd District Vice President, said that he was grateful Parson took the time to come out to the conference and learn more about the issues firefighters face.

Dozens of leaders from through the country spoke to the organization that represents more the 300,000 firefighters.

The keynote speaker on Tuesday morning is set to be former-Vice President Joe Biden. Others speaking throughout the conference include IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, Delaware Governor John Carney, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Minnesota Senator Tina Smith, California Representative Ami Bera, Pennsylvania Representative Brian, and several others.

“Whether it is Republican or Democrat, we support whoever supports us,” said Woolbright.