People who don’t have a firefighter in the family often assume that the most dangerous part of the job is fighting fires. However, the number of firefighters who die from cancer caused by their occupation may be as much as thirty times greater than the number who die in fires, according to Boston’s fire chief. He says, “We have about 13 members right now who are battling various stages of cancers, active members. And we have a number of retirees in that fight.”
Lung cancer is certainly one type of occupational cancer linked to firefighting. Firefighters have also contracted brain cancer, thyroid cancer and other forms of the disease. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) reports that nearly two out of three deaths related to that occupation since 2002 have been from cancer.
Researchers who have studied the phenomenon say that it can be traced to modern building materials — particularly plastic. The fire chief says that “once they decompose and they combust they’re going to give off all these toxins and carcinogens that are really deadly to firefighters.” These can include asbestos, formaldehyde and arsenic.
Unfortunately, not all firefighters who develop occupational cancer are entitled to workers’ compensation. It depends on where you live.
Currently, 33 states, including Wisconsin, have passed “presumptive legislation.” These laws help more firefighters obtain workers’ comp coverage.
Wisconsin’s law includes in its presumption that a firefighter’s cancer was caused by their occupation “cancers affecting the skin, breasts, central nervous system or lymphatic, digestive, hematological, urinary, skeletal, oral or reproductive systems.” There are exceptions for smokers who get cancers associated with tobacco products.
Of course, it’s best when fire departments can minimize the chances of developing cancer. One researcher says that firefighters should shower and wash their gear as soon as possible to lessen exposure to toxic substances. He says it’s also important to keep your air mask on even after the fire is out. Many fire departments are giving every firefighter two sets of gear, so they can easily change into a clean one when they finish fighting a fire.
If you or a loved one has what you believe is occupational cancer, it’s essential to find out about your rights to workers’ compensation. An experienced attorney can help you seek the benefits you need and deserve as you fight this battle.