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“The Firefighters Wake Up Call to Us All” by Susan Foster RE: SB 649 Opposing Cell Towers in Rights of Way

Jul 11, 2017



by Susan Foster

The next few days may signal a policy shift tipping point from which there is no return, and firefighters – forever on the front lines when it comes to health and safety – have a message for all of us through their proactive stance. The firefighters fought for an exemption to towers on their stations because years of living with cell towers has taught them lessons we should all heed.

An unprecedented bill, SB 649, is pending in the California Assembly that will be heard in the

Committee on Communications and Conveyance on Wednesday, July 12. Many feel this is the last place to stop the bill. For Californians, check to see if your representative is on the Committee: For a quick check as to who your representative is: Urge your Assembly member to say NO on SB 649.

If it passes and becomes law effective January 1, 2018, nearly all cell towers may be sited by telecom carriers without any local control. An amendment was added to the bill at the 11th hour to grant a pass to macro towers, allowing cell towers of multiple shapes and sizes to be sited without cities or local residents having any say in the matter. For all the connectivity people have come to wish for, no one wants to wake up with a tower beaming at or looming over their home.

Prior to this expansive amendment, taking the proposed legislation from bad to Orwellian, Senate Bill 649 was designed to allow for rapid deployment of small cell towers to be placed every 5 to 10 homes without the local zoning procedures that have been guaranteed for 20 years by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This expansion is part of the coming 5G infrastructure build out.


The industry-friendly California legislature may claim they know nothing about health concerns, but in fact they do. The legislature granted an exemption from SB 649 to the firefighters who have fought cell towers on their stations in court and in their cities for almost 20 years. Throughout California firefighters have long complained of often disabling symptoms from cell towers on their stations. Cities frequently rent out space on fire stations to add to city revenue. Firefighters live and sleep in the stations when on duty, and have experienced significant RF radiation exposure.


A 2004 SPECT brain scan study of firefighters in Central California found brain abnormalities in all the men tested, as well as delayed reaction time, lack of impulse control and cognitive impairment. None of the men worked HazMat, so chemical exposure was ruled out. All the firefighters tested had suffered from sleep disturbances, headaches, lack of focus and memory loss following installation of a tower adjacent to their station five years earlier. They sued the wireless company that told them the towers were perfectly harmless, but Sec. 704 of The Telecommunications Act of 1996 does not allow health to be taken into consideration when siting a tower, so the judge dismissed the lawsuit.


Thus the current firefighter exemption does not specify “health” as a reason for the exemption. Yet the history of the firefighters is well known, and society depends on them for health and safety emergencies. This exemption is an implicit acknowledgment of health risk, and the firefighters deserve this exemption.


The fact is, we all deserve an exemption. Since the State’s granting of the exemption for fire stations implies acknowledgement of the health risk for firefighters, this begs the obvious question: What about the rest of us who are inherently more vulnerable – particularly the unborn, children, teens, those who are ill and disabled, and the elderly? We should all be allowed to retain local control and have as much say as possible to protect our communities and our families.


Susan Foster is a medical writer who has worked with firefighters on health, safety and policy with respect to cell towers on their stations since 2000. She organized a brain study of California firefighters in 2004 and was the original author of Resolution 15 passed by the IAFF in 2004. She is an Honorary Firefighters with the San Diego Fire Department.

Read Susan Fosters filed Affidavit to the FCC 

Read the Press Release on the Resolution and Research Study here 


  • “The IAFF opposes the use of fire stations as base stations for towers and/or antennas for the conduction of cell phone transmissions until a study with the highest scientific merit and integrity on health effects of exposure to low-intensity RF/MW radiation is conducted and it is proven that such sitings are not hazardous to the health of our members.”   
  • The IAFF Official Position Against  Cell Towers on Fire stations passed in 2004
  • This Position was initiated after increasing complaints among firefighters with cellular antennas on their stations coupled with the California study showing neurological damage in California firefighters conducted by Dr. Gunnar Heuser. The  pilot study (2004) of California firefighters showed brain abnormalities, cognitive impairment, delayed reaction time, and lack of impulse control in all 6 firefighters tested (Read Susan Fosters filed Affidavit to the FCC, Read the Press Release on the Resolution and Research Study here ). This study led to the overwhelming passage of Resolution 15 by the International Association of Firefighters in Boston in August 2004. Res. 15 called for further study and was amended to impose a moratorium on the placement of cell towers on fire stations throughout the US and Canada.  

L.A. County Firefighters Local 1014

“As firefighters and paramedics, we live in these firehouses. What effect will these towers have on us? What are the risks to our neighbors? It’s a no-brainer that LA County should at least have done a proper study before before putting 200-foot high-power microwave antennas on top of our heads.”

Dave Gillotte, Active Duty Fire Captain

   President, LA County Firefighters Local 1014

Watch him testify on this issue here. 

United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112 IAFF-CIO-CLC Opposes Cell Towers on Their Stations. 

  • “ It is inexcusable that once again our firefighters in the field were the last to know about a massive 150 million dollar project that could jeopardize their health and safety. … nobody talked to us and we have not heard from one single expert who has told us that this project will be safe.”
  • “UFLAC will strongly oppose the use of Fire Stations as base locations for cell towers and/or antennas “
  • Download  the  letter from this LA Firefighters Union Local 112 asking for an immediate halt to cell towers on fire stations.