Bill Presumes Connecticut Firefighters’ Cancer Is Job-Related

March 11, 2015

State lawmakers in Connecticut are considering legislation that would presume firefighters who have cancer most likely got it from their jobs, easing claims for insurance or workers’ compensation.

The science supports firefighters’ argument, Waterbury Deputy Chief Richard Hart, political affairs director of the Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut, told The Republican-American.

“The toxic atmosphere we work in on a daily basis holds hidden poisons ready to attack our bodies, long after the fire is out,” he said. “Cancer in the fire service is real.”

Before seeking workers’ compensation, a Connecticut firefighter must prove cancer was caused by the job, which is difficult.

Manchester firefighter Jubenal Gonzalez said the choice shouldn’t be between health and finances.

“Imagine that you’re battling cancer, you’re fighting for your very life and you’re wondering if you’re going to lose your home,” he said.

Francesca Litow, a cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said firefighters have higher rates of cancer affecting the skin, prostate, brain and colon. Many chemicals found in smoke such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde are carcinogenic.

Municipal officials worry about the cost to budgets and the impact on insurance rates from cancer claims. A single cancer claim could top $1 million, said Robert Labanara, state relations manager at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Shifting the burden of proof from firefighters to municipalities would be irresponsible, particularly as local officials struggle with layoffs and other tough choices to save money, he said.

“With this backdrop of fiscal peril, you have before you a new unfunded state mandate,” he said.

Waterbury Fire Chief David Martin said he’s “not overly concerned about who pays the bill, to be honest.”

“I care about getting my guys better. I care about doing things to detect cancer at its earliest stage, or prevent it from happening in the first place,” he said.

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