If there is an emergency or a disaster, we rely on firefighters to respond to protect our communities. When considering the occupation, it’s easy to think about the immediate dangers firefighters put themselves in to keep us safe. However, what we don’t consider is the long-term effects to their health.
Under current laws in Virginia, firefighters do not receive workers’ compensation for cancer, given that it’s nearly impossible for medical professionals to determine the source. Since no cause is determined, workers’ compensation is denied. However, West Virginia lawmakers are reviewing a proposed bill that may change this.
According to a South Charleston Assistant Fire Chief, the job has become more dangerous with time. Furniture and other household appliances are manufactured with new agents that are more likely to cause cancer. The carcinogens produced from these products can be highly toxic, and they increase the risk of developing oral, respiratory, digestive or urinary cancers.
The proposed bill, which has taken nearly 10 years to put together, would provide workers’ compensation to firefighters who contract certain types of cancer and meet specific criteria that proves the cancer resulted from the occupation. The past five years have been extremely detrimental to the success of the bill. The Centers for Disease Control has been conducting research that explicitly shows a correlation between leukemia and lung cancer mortality rates with the amount of exposure firefighters face. Though, in the past, legislatures and insurance companies throughout the nation only consider this a “casual” association.
Nearly three dozen other states provide workers’ compensation to its firefighters who are living with cancer. After all, they are public servants who constantly expose themselves to dangerous carcinogens. And while this bill is a good step in the right direction, we could do more. Firefighters who develop cancer should be given the benefit of the doubt in regards to the source. The bill should not have stipulations and criteria regarding the qualifications of firefighters who develop cancer.
Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, L.L.P. is a personal injury law firm that helps victims of on-the-job injuries in Washington, Virginia and Maryland.