Firefighter Cancer Benefits Bill Clears First Hurdle
Legislation has passed its first House committee, which would make firefighters diagnosed with certain types of cancers automatically eligible for disability or death benefits.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firefighters have a 15 percent increased risk of developing cancer, compared to the general population. After several years where such a bill failed to pass, the House State Affairs Committee gave unanimous approval.
Chairman Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill), is the bill’s sponsor.
“Specifically, a firefighter who is diagnosed with one of the 21 specific types of cancer, is entitled to receive cancer treatment covered with and employer-sponsored health plan, or through a group health insurance trust fund, and a one-time cash payout of $25,000 upon a firefighters’ initial cancer diagnosis,” said Ingoglia.
Under current law, most firefighters must prove their cancer is job-related to be eligible for coverage. Several current and former firefighters who are cancer survivors testified before the committee.
“Please do not allow the state of Florida to be the last to provide this cancer coverage to firefighters, said St. Augustine Fire Chief Carlos Aviles, a thyroid cancer survivor.
“At 29 years old I was diagnosed in the best shape of my life; I’ve been active in the military since the age of 18; a non-smoker, and doctors could not figure out what was going on,” said Aviles. “You cannot travel around the state and spend any time with firefighters without hearing stories about how cancer is running through their organization.”
The measure would also benefit the families of stricken first responders – who Pensacola Fire Chief Ginny Cranor says already face myriad hardships when there’s a line-of-duty injury, illness or death.
“They’re ‘citizen-guardians’ of the community, the firefighters and police officers; all first responders are,” says Cranor. “So it is a difficult situation for families financially, particularly without any kind of presumptive, protective legislation.”
There are Pensacola-area firefighters who have developed work-related cancers. And Cranor says it’s becoming more of a problem because of the materials — plastics, microfibers and other synthetics — which are now common in home construction.
“When it burns, it releases more toxins and chemicals than in the [1920s or 1930s] when you had cotton, or leather with cotton batting inside of your furniture,” said Cranor. “I think that the danger to come is just what we’re really about to face.”
Opponents of the bill — including the Florida League of Cities — say their resistance centers on how local governments will pay for the added benefits, not whether firefighters are deserving.
“There’s been a lot of discussion that we’re against firefighters, and that is definitely not the case,” said League spokeswoman Amber Hughes. “Obviously, I don’t think it’s surprise to anyone on this committee or in the audience today that we do have some concerns about this legislation.”
“Your staff analysis alone outlines that the fiscal impact of this is not known,” said Hughes. “Most of our firefighters are actually in local plans, so that wouldn’t even cover the cost of them and obviously the impact of cost to potentially the health care system or health premiums. And also our Workers’ Comp premiums.”
“How will the cities’ tax base be affected if there, all of a sudden, a scarcity of firefighters because nobody wants to go into this profession?” said Rep. Chuck Clemons, a Republican, who represents House District 21.
“It seems to me like this is not an easy fix; it’s not an inexpensive fix, it’s a necessary fix,” Clemons said. “These people deserve this particular benefit, because when the citizens dial 911, they expect life to be saved and they expect their property [damage] to be minimized and not lost.”
The next stop for the House measure is not clear at this point; meanwhile, the Senate version of the bill is ready to be heard by the full chamber.