The Healing ~

Diane Cotter
9 min readAug 17, 2023

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of Diane Cotter

I began thinking of this article months ago.. after the IAFF’S premier of ‘Burned’ in Las Vegas — where the recognition of our work was so incredibly overwhelming on so many levels. Where Kathy Crosby-Bell of Last Call Foundation and Ethereal Films were rallied by the 2300 members in attendance.

A tremendous full circle moment on stage with IAFF General President Ed Kelly representing the Union I fought so hard to enlist — it was unfathomable at one time — President Kelly has literally wiped out the remnants of the previous administrations denial. GP Kelly and all of the IAFF resources are now at the forefront of this war.

A surreal, slow-motion moment which lingers in my memory took place in a conference room when I met the team of lawyers enlisted by Ed Kelly. I’ll never forget each attorney introducing themselves to me one-by-one, with such — respect, admiration. I was not prepared for the moment… it moves me as one of the most incredible moments of this journey. One patriarch attorney said, “look at what you’ve done Diane…”

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Still, while the extraordinary recognition Paul and I were given was unfathomable my heart is with the countless widows who are left to raise families without their spouses… The journey they bear is unimaginable.

All of these moments were enhanced by the first remarkable wave of healing that began in a sports bar at Caesars. While chatting with Jason Burns and Paul members of PFFM would enter and the work of reconciling unfinished business of the past took place. I’m incredibly proud of President McKinnon for the reunified front we now have, and I’m humbled by the open discussion Rich and I had.

I will remember those moments for the raw, open and healing threads of this story that they are. I’m grateful for the renewed friendship with my friends and allies from PFFM, and look forward to the work ahead with renewed solidarity — and open arms.

Diane, Rich MacKinnon, Pat Morrison, Danny Whu, Neil McMillan at IAFF’s January premier of ‘BURNED’ in Las Vegas.

I’m equally humbled by my open discussion and the reunification I’ve had with Pat Morrison ~ Pat acknowledged I was right .. and expressed how sorry he was. Still, we lost precious time from 2015 to 2021 and nothing will change that.

He will have fierce support from the brilliant science team of Wu, Erwin, and McMillian. They have my FULL support. We couldn’t have a better team leading this issue — This science team has fiercely held the line on disinformation - and will continue to do so.

In June we premiered ‘BURNED- Protecting the Protectors’ at The Hanover Theater in Worcester where my father was manager for 30 years .

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It was a ‘coming home’ experience. Another example of coming full circle — like so many moments in this journey. I know I’ve healed as I don’t hold any hatred for the man behind Paul and me in this photo at The Hanover. As the evening began Mike Papagni and I held a difficult conversation. I heard his perception of me, where he advised that my perception of the treatment Paul and I received from him and others in PFFM was ‘wrong’. In years past that would have eaten away at me — but now it makes me smile… along with so many moments that once ate at me..

The Hanover is where Karen Hensel broke the news of this deception. Another ‘come-home’ moment with an optic we now share as a learning lesson. While we were filming Karen’s 2018 segment for NBC Boston in a Worcester Fire House — we had asked and received permission to film — Paul would receive a call from Chief Lavoie telling him we had to leave because… ‘Legal’ was nervous . Dumbfounded we left and scrambled to find a place. I called my friends at The Hanover.

My speeches now share optics of both pleasant and unpleasant aspects of this journey that took place. In August, at the request of Professor Bob Spellane, we screened BURNED to his students for Clark University. I was so honored to see my dear friend and ally Congressman McGovern — who I literally put though hell. He did what no one else did when faced with the firefighter PFAS exposure.

Not that lawmakers didn’t act — oh they did.. but they would stop short of recognizing the Cotters. They recognized the locals they worked with and the institutions — not the flaming-arrow throwing banshee from Woosta. It’s part of ‘the rules’. The Rules were in place long before this activist showed up. You can read about that in the memoir in work now. The chapter is called, ‘The Rules’. This chapter will also explain the 193 engagements with then Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and why I believe she was towing the ‘union line’ of then Schaitberger — and chose not to act. And only acted on AFFF.

Jimmy McGovern and Senator Shaheen would break the rules, and publicly raise our name. That carried us through many dark months and years. Jim co-founded the Congressional PFAS Task Group after a discussion with Rob Bilott and myself in Worcester in 2018.. We shared a laugh when he said to the Clark students after BURNED, “we need the stories, it’s the stories that move us, and the shaming of inaction”… and “don’t let Diane’s demure manner here today fool you — she was the master”… Jimmy McGovern, you sir are an American Hero.

And, for you new folks, it was Senator Shaheen’s team who worked with Dr. Peaslee after my petitioning for the NIST study. The one Harold took credit for lol !!! Damn if I’m not smiling ear to ear as I think of Dr. Peaslee setting that record straight …

The entire backstory of the crusade is captured here in Stack’s interview. It’s raw — there’s nothing pretty about it. The cost was great. But the cost to not act and crawl under a rock was greater — the toll the crusade took on my mental, emotional and physical health is immense and captured in this interview. The outcome was the knowledge that you were indeed poisoned. For decades.

Still, there was an unseen burden I didn’t share. I’ll share a glimpse of that here. You’ll find more in the memoir — in the chapter, ‘The Appropriation of Diane Cotter’.

99.9 percent of the NGO’s I’ve worked with have been lifting, effective, positive. But one left me horribly scarred.

My feelings of intentional acts of deliberate exclusion, research appropriation, secret projects, commodification and blatant omission of my work to fit my perception of the narrative Dr. Kyla Bennet for PEER has left me as scarred as the horrific acts of Schaitberger and his wingman John Granby of Lion Gear.

My introduction to Bennett/PEER came in December 2020 from allies. In September 2021 PEER published a newsletter stating it led a national effort to remove PFAS from turnout gear. Had I gone with my initial impression and subsequent first gut punch I’d of saved myself devastating grief. It would be the most egregious female marginalization I’ve experienced in this crusade. Confirmation of my perception came from Dr Bennet in a February 2022 email she’d outlined for a storyline to a national media outlet — that her client was the real national hero on the effort to remove PFAS from turnout gear. Upon receipt I would sever all contact with the allies and PEER.

There was one leader. She came with no credentials. And she build an army.

I now interview the interviewers who contact me for articles —

It’s another way I’ve healed.

I’ve set firm boundaries.

It’s now mid-August, and every day I feel the shell coming off, and a rise in contentment. For the first time in YEARS I BOUGHT A MAGAZINE !!! Silly huh? I bought a word search. And, we have a new puppy. She’s truly my therapy snausage.

The body is healing too… There were numerous times Paul would rush me to the ER or the ambulance would be called for the chest pains that felt like my aorta was being ripped out of my heart.. I’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve made that trip to the ER over the last 9 years… but no episodes in 2022, and 2023.. And after gaining 40 pounds from 2017 to 2022 and losing so much hair daily that I now use black keratin powder to cover missing patches of baldness, well, for about a week now the handfuls of hair have stopped too-and I’ve lost much of the weight I was carrying. I’m recognizing myself again in photos..

Recently, Eric Lamar said I’ve given my power away and implied the law firms are getting a kick back. Nothing could be further from the truth. You must know by now I do my own research. If Eric interviewed them he didn’t say, but I sure did. And they are a long-arm asset for us; taking on the NFPA, lobbying for us on Capitol Hill, raising the medical-monitoring Rob Bilott’s been seeking for years, filing personal injury claims and my personal hope for wrongful deaths by the thousands. Know that Nick Papain and his firm worked pro-bono for firefighter 9/11 families. For years. And successfully lobbied for many 9/11 bills. I know I handled the gear for years as a firewife. The firms are not ‘just’ for career firefighters. They are for every firefighter active and retired in the USA. I hope every firefighter family signs on. I don’t have cancer and I did.

As for giving my power away, that’s the last thing I want — power. I’m tired, so very tired.

I had a talk with a trusted friend this week, one of those righteous men in powerful positions that understand the war. He always gives pearls of wisdom, he asked how I was and I replied, “ I’m healing, I’m really healing”. He said, “I can hear it,,, you pushed the boulder up the hill Diane …” And that’s when it hit me. What we’d accomplished.

I'm healing. she says as tears roll down her cheek.. I'm really healing..

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Diane Cotter

A very private individual who fell into a very public rabbit hole of epic proportions. I call it the #greatestdeceptionever - really, EVER.