Bill proposal would give workers compensation to firefighters with cancer

Published: Feb. 5, 2016 at 11:49 PM EST
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KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- When an emergency happens, firefighters are there in a moments notice exposing themselves to all sorts of hazards.

Those hazards can cause long-term problems like cancer, but the way the rules work in West Virginia cancer isn't on the list of things covered by workers compensation.

Gear is the only safety net firefighters have to prevent toxic chemicals from getting in their bodies.

"Over the years the job has become more dangerous .. your furniture, plastics, different products being manufactured that increases the risk of different types of cancer causing agents," said South Charleston Assistant Fire Chief Virgil White.

Currently, financial protection for both paid and volunteer fire fighters, doesn't exist if they get cancer on the job.

A bill is being proposed at the West Virginia Capitol that would bring firefighters under the workers compensation umbrella if they get certain types of cancer and if they meet certain criteria that can show the cancer is a result of the job.

"You're putting your guys in harms way, it does cause a level of concern ... it's been close to ten years trying to get this bill put together," said Asst. Chief White.

In the last five years of their fight, the Centers for Disease Control has been doing research that shows lunch cancer and leukemia mortality risks were modestly increasing with firefighter exposures. These findings add to evidence of a casual association between firefighting and cancer.

Small effects are meriting cautious interpretation.

"We don't ask for much ... we like to take care of the people in our communities ... now we're just asking for them to do the same for us," said Asst. Chief White.

The bill is being studied by a committee right now to see how it would affect the workers compensation budgets.

There are already other states that offer workers compensation for firefighters who suffer from work related cancers.