Oklahoma Appeals Court: Firefighter Owed Work Comp Benefits

December 29, 2008

A veteran Edmond firefighter is due workers’ compensation benefits after being diagnosed with colon cancer, the Oklahoma Court of Appeals has ruled.

The court upheld the ruling of the Workers’ Compensation Court in awarding benefits to Timothy K. Vernon, who had worked as a fireman for Edmond for 18 years.

The city of Edmond opposed the benefits, asserting that Vernon’s cancer could have causes other than his service as a firefighter and challenging a law saying municipal firefighters may incur cancer, heart disease and other ailments in the course of performing their duties.

The court further ruled the law to be constitutionally sound, as firefighters face unique dangers in the course of their job that warrant special legislative classification.

“While other first responders are also faced with danger, the firefighter must enter burning buildings and is most directly exposed to smoke and other hazardous materials, no matter how sophisticated his or her equipment,” the court said in the Dec. 22 ruling.

A University of Cincinnati study performed over a three-year period and involving 110,000 firefighters worldwide, reported in 2006 that firefighters are far more likely than the rest of the population to develop 10 kinds of cancer.

The study found firefighters are twice as likely to die from testicular cancer, and 53 percent more likely to contract multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow.

Firefighters also showed much higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate cancer.

The University of Cincinnati study was prompted by research focused on emergency personnel responding to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Several firefighters and other first responders on the scene developed cancer and various respiratory ailments in the months and years following their exposure to the smoke, dust and other contaminants in the air at Ground Zero.

Information from: The Journal Record, www.journalrecord.com

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