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Candidates discuss opioid crisis, Medicaid expansion with state's fire chiefs

Union Leader Correspondent

October 11. 2018 9:01PM
Democrat Molly Kelly, who is running for governor, takes a question from Durham Fire Chief Dave Emanuel during a forum at UNH Thursday afternoon. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DURHAM — Four of the major candidates running for election turned out for a forum held by the New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs Thursday afternoon.

First congressional district candidates Democrat Chris Pappas and Republican Eddie Edwards were joined by Democrat Molly Kelly, who is running for governor, and Republican Steve Negron, who is hoping to win the second congressional district.

All of the candidates told the 20 or so fire chiefs in attendance that they respect the hard work their departments do to keep New Hampshire safe.

“Your incredible work does not go unnoticed,” Kelly said. “As governor, I will work every day to ensure the safety and the well-being of all of the people of New Hampshire, and I will work for your safety every day.”

Kelly became quiet as she described witnessing emergency rescue crews saving the life of a young woman who was overdosing on drugs.

“She was sick. She needed help. And she got help,” Kelly said.

The candidates spoke one at a time and gave the chiefs an opportunity to express their concerns.

On the chiefs’ minds were the topics of Medicaid expansion and the opioid crisis, fire safety issues at recovery centers, reimbursement for emergency ambulance services from Medicare, post traumatic stress disorder in first responders and cancer developed from job related tasks.

When responding to a question about the possibility of suing manufacturers of firefighting foam, Pappas said he would consider looking into that further.

“It poses a challenge at Pease (International Tradeport) where it has contaminated groundwater and affected firefighters as well,” Pappas said.

When asked about reimbursements from Medicare for ambulance services, Edwards said the health care industry needs to move to more of a free market system to keep costs competitive.

“Every place where there is only one hospital rates are 12 percent higher because there is no competition,” Edwards said.

Negron spoke on the issue of PTSD and its effect on firefighters.

“Somehow, you’re the forgotten warriors and I understand that. It’s not a nine to five job. You can’t leave it behind at the station,” Negron said.

Negron promised that if elected to office he will have a staff person available to help town and city officials who need help navigating the federal grant system available. He was responding to a comment by Rochester Fire Chief Mark Klose, who said smaller communities and especially volunteer fire departments have a hard time getting the money they could qualify for because they don’t have the staffing to apply for grant money.

“You shouldn’t have to do this alone. That’s part of my job,” Negron said.

The forum was part of the October NHAFC meeting, which was hosted at the University of New Hampshire by Durham Fire Chief Dave Emanuel.

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