Igniting the Conversation Part 3: Actions being taken at the Legislative levels

A closer look at the specific cancers most prevalent in the fire service, and the laws and regulations being implemented.
WTAP News @ 6
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 5:34 PM EST
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In the third and final part of WTAP’s series Igniting the Conversation, the Cost of Firefighting, we look at the specific cancers the fire service has a greater chance of getting, and whats being done at the legislative levels to better protect them.

Parkersburg Fire Chief Jason Matthews says there are currently three cancers at the West Virginia legislative level that have been said to be a workers compensation illness.

“...I know a lot of other states have more than three and I believe that the lobbyist for the firefighters, they’ll continue to push other cancers, but those are the three that went through first,” Chief Matthews.

West Virginia laws say that certain cancers are presumed to be caused during the line of duty unless proven otherwise.

The code is also known as the cancer presumption bill. These laws are to determine what will be covered by insurance.

In Ohio, insurance covers firefighters who got cancer from exposure to two certain cancer-causing agents.

“... I think they’re trying to make that a little more expansive to where it covers us later on, because a lot of these cancers that we’re susceptible to doesn’t show up until later in our 60′s and and a lot of us will have been retired for 10 years or better. So they’re trying to get some more legislation where we’re covered under these cancer presumption laws.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, found that digestive, oral, respiratory, and urinary cancers are of high concern for firefighters.

That same study found that firefighters are twice as likely of getting mesothelioma.

Other cancers they are at a greater chance of getting include testicular cancer, multiple myeloma, prostate and colon cancer.

CancerRisk of getting compared to general population
Testicular Cancer2.02 times greater risk
Mesothelioma2.0 times greater risk
Multiple Myeloma1.53 times greater risk
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma1.51 times greater risk
Brain cancer1.32 times greater risk
Prostate cancer1.28 times greater risk
Colon cancer1.21 times greater risk
Leukemia1.14 times greater risk
Esophageal cancer1.16 times greater risk

“Right now There is no mechanism in place to track volunteer firefighters as far as their cancer rates are. It’s a little bit easier for career fire services,” says Joe Schumacher.

Joe Schumacher, the COO for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, says a national firefighter registry is another tool that will be available soon to track cancer in the fire service.

“... that will be the first time once that is up and running that the entire fire service will be able to report incidents of cancer.

Schumacher says they they want all firefighter, whether they’ve been diagnosed with cancer or not, to go on and register.

“So this National Firefighter Registry is going to be a big deal for us. It will give them a better picture and date on what’s really going on,” Schumacher continued.

While the fire service continues to push for more to be done at the legislative level, our local fire chiefs say there are steps that can be taken to be proactive about your health, starting with your next doctor’s visit.

Chief Matthews says, “Everything that we always read is your annual physical and you know, talk to you doctor about it. Let them know what your occupation is and let them help you in that aspect of seeing what needs done.”

Lt. Brandon Brown said he’d like to see more cancer screenings covered by the city or insurance.