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Firefighter cancer presumption a hot issue for workers comp in 2017

Firefighter cancer presumption a hot issue for workers comp in 2017

Ohio in January became the 36th state to allow firefighters who are diagnosed with certain cancers to file for workers compensation, and so far two more states are seeing proposals for certain cancers suffered by firefighters to be compensable. 

With presumption laws in place, firefighters who suffer from certain cancers can claim workers comp if they meet certain requirements, which vary state by state. 

Without a presumption law, firefighters must prove that exposure to a particular toxin at a particular fire caused their cancer to get workers comp benefits. But only days into the 2017 state legislative session, lawmakers in two states are pushing for change. 

Montana state Sen. Patrick Connell, R-Hamilton, on Jan. 4 filed Senate Bill 72, which would make lung cancer and other lung diseases compensable for both volunteer and professional firefighters if they meet specific criteria, such as at least 10 years of service and undergoing a pre-employment health screening. Similar legislation has failed in Montana in the past. 

Meanwhile, on the same day, Florida state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Meyers, filed House Bill 143, a similar cancer presumption bill for firefighters who suffer from multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer or testicular cancer if they had been employed for more than five years and had not worked in any other industry that could have exposed them to toxins, among other requirements. It’s the second such bill presented in Florida; in mid-December, state Sen. Jack Latvala R-Clearwater, introduced an identical draft of legislation, Senate Bill 158.

Those bills are now in committees in both Montana and Florida.

In Ohio, the most recent state to adopt reforms, firefighters disabled by cancer are eligible for workers comp benefits if the firefighter was assigned to at least six years of hazardous duty. The presumption, however, can be rebutted if evidence shows the firefighter was exposed to cigarettes and tobacco products outside of their official duties — a clause present in virtually every cancer presumption law, enacted and proposed. 

Meanwhile, in Arizona, firefighters are asking that up to 10 cancers be added to the current list of cancers accepted under its presumption statute. Under Arizona’s law, the covered cancers include brain, bladder, rectal/colon cancer, lymphoma, leukemia and mesothelioma of the respiratory tract. 

Phoenix-based Professional Firefighters of Arizona appealed to lawmakers in December to expand the law. 

According to the organization’s website, president Bryan Jeffries told lawmakers during a hearing that firefighters get higher rates of cancer “because of increased exposure to toxic chemicals.”

Mr. Jeffries did not respond to requests for comment. He testified to Arizona lawmakers that “in today’s modern society, in buildings that our people go into every day, everything is now made out of chemicals,” according to his organization’s web page.

“When those chemicals burn, they put off noxious chemicals that (firefighters) are exposed to,” he said to the legislative committee. 

A 2016 legislative report studying the proposal to expand the law in Arizona listed malignant melanoma, stomach cancer, testicular cancer, prostate cancer and multiple myeloma as among the cancers to be included in the future.


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