State working on bill to increase coverage of cancer in firefighters

State working on bill to increase coverage of cancer in firefighters

Washington state lawmakers are currently working on the details of a proposed bill that would increase the presumptive disease coverage for firefighters by nine cancers as well as MRSA and stroke.

The bill would also apply the presumptions to publicly employed fire investigators and paramedics.

The new cancers recognized as presumptive would include mesothelioma, stomach, esophageal, buccal, pharyngeal, nonmelanoma skin cancer and adenocarcinoma. It would also add breast and cervical cancers for female firefighters.

“Right now we know through studies that breast cancer is 2.66 times higher in female firefighters between the ages of 50-54 than the general public,” said Capt. Jeff Wainwright, with Spokane County Fire District 8.

He says the dangers firefighters face when they are putting out fires go beyond the obvious flames.

“We are essentially crawling through a toxic soup,” said Wainwright, “there’s asbestos and other off-gases like benzene and chemicals that we don’t even know what they do except that we know they are cancer causing and we don’t have any choice but to work in that environment.”

He says firefighters take a lot of precautions, like wearing their own air supply, wearing more than 70 pounds worth of protective gear and de-contaminating on scene after each fire, but that isn’t proving to be enough.

“I go to a lot of funerals, and I can’t think of the last time I went to a firefighter’s funeral that the death wasn’t caused by cancer,” said Wainwright.

He says HB 2633 and SB 6213 need to be passed for firefighters and their families to be protected.

Opponents of the bill argue the cost to tax payers would be too high, and that other health and safety programs within counties and cities might need to be dropped in order to accommodate for the costs.

But for Wainwright the protection of the people who are their to protect you, at a detriment to themselves, is a no-brainer.

“It all comes down to dollars and cents at the end of the day, but I don’t know how you put a price tag on someone’s life,” he said.

Currently the bill has made it through the House Committee on Appropriations, but will need to pass through both houses.

More information can be found by clicking here for the House and here for the Senate.