Eyeing the threat of occupational cancers among firefighters, Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Feb. 6 that he is supporting bills in the state legislature that would allow firefighters to claim workers’ compensation for certain types of cancer.
Research has shown that firefighters are exposed nearly every day to toxic chemicals and smoke that can increase the chances of thyroid, kidney and other types of cancer. These cancers can become apparent many years after the firefighter has left the profession.
The bill proposed by Hogan would expand coverage for firefighters to kidney, bladder and renal cancer.
A history of helping firefighters
Maryland has a history of providing benefits for firefighters, paramedics and EMTs because those professionals are exposed to greater risk of accidental injuries and occupational diseases.
Due to the nature of the job, firefighters suffer more burns and hernias. They also are exposed to unique exposure to chemicals and smoke that can lead to an occupational disease that is covered under Maryland’s workers’ compensation laws.
The International Association of Firefighters says the increased benefits are necessary because of the nature of items firefighters encounter. Homes and businesses are now full of plastics and chemicals that burn faster and cover firefighters in toxic waste.
The association says cancer is now the leading cause of death among its members, replacing the asbestos-related deaths of 30 years ago with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma.
Union officials, firefighters and politicians said that expanding workers’ compensation coverage was a shared goal during this legislative session.
Stage IV colorectal cancer
Hogan mentioned the battle endured by Prince George’s County firefighter Jesse McCulloch, who died in October 2018 after battling colorectal cancer. He was diagnosed with the disease in January 2017 and stayed on the job for more than a year.
The cause of the cancer was toxins he was exposed to while fighting fires. He was a firefighter for more than 10 years and is survived by a wife and two daughters.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found higher rates of cancer among firefighters than the general population. Departments in Boston, Seattle, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Houston and Toronto all report elevated cancer risks among firefighters.
If you or a loved one is a firefighter, EMT or paramedic and you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may be able to receive more help than you realized. Contact a qualified, experienced attorney to help guide you through the workers’ compensation process.