On October 1, the monumental law expanding firefighter’s workers’ compensation coverage for cancer went into effect. Maryland laws have held presumptions to cover firefighter’s work-related cancer for some time, but this increased coverage is significant to help these first responders obtain the compensation they need if they suffer from occupational diseases and cancers. The law specifically covers various types of cancers, including:
- Prostate cancer
- Breast cancer
- Non-Hodgkins lymphoma
- Brain cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Throat cancer
- Multiple myeloma
However, this law seems to be having much more influence than expanding coverage. It is also increasing awareness of this risk firefighters face – as well as the action to mitigate that risk.
Firehouses taking measures to reduce future cancer risk
Firefighters have always faced a significant cancer risk from smoke, chemical exposure and dangerous burning substances. However, that risk was not widely known for many years. Many firefighters reported that they were not aware of the risk when they first joined the job.
That all seems to be changing now. According to WTOP News, local fire departments all across Maryland are making efforts to keep their firefighters safer on the job and avoid illness. These measures include:
- Regulations for firefighters to exchange their hoods and other garments immediately after fighting a fire;
- Adding “clean cabs” to fire trucks to keep contaminated gear separate from firefighters;
- Adjusting policies to decontaminate sites and firefighters faster; and
- Ordering second sets of gear for each firefighter, so they always have a clean set.
Emphasizing the combination of safety and cleanliness may be a change in classic firefighter culture, but it could be a fundamental factor in decreasing the high rate of cancer in this line of work.
What action can individual firefighters take?
Even though Maryland law provides expanded workers’ compensation coverage for many types of cancer for firefighters, individual firefighters and squads should concentrate on prevention first (Maryland Code, Labor & Employment §9-503). Individuals can help reduce their own risk if they:
- Follow these new safety regulations;
- Ensure they wear proper safety gear, and continue to wear breathing masks even if the fire is out;
- Take extra care when washing up after fighting a fire and after their shift; and
- Consult their physician regularly.
Fighting fires is a dangerous job. Firefighters expect the risk, but, as the new laws and movements indicate, there is always a way to decrease that risk. And the statewide campaign to increase awareness and reduce risk is certainly a step in the right direction to keep firefighters safe in the future.