Firefighter cancer bill would safeguard against health risks

The bill, which still needs to pass the House, would give Ohio firefighters with cancer better access to workers' compensation

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BOARDMAN, Ohio (WYTV) – Ohio firefighters are pushing for a bill to pass the House by the end of the year that would cover firefighters if they develop cancers from the job.

The proposed bill presumes that certain cancers, like lung, brain and skin cancer, are caused by the firefighter’s job. This would give firefighters better access to workers’ compensation.

Firefighters are on the front lines every day.

“A day for a fireman is always a guessing game, no one can predict the day,” said Boardman Fire Chief Mark Pitzer. “Every single call is different. There’s no cookie cutter call we respond to.”

Running into a burning building is part of the job, but it comes with a lot of risks.

“The environment we work in is like a toxic soup with all the new electronics and plastics that’s put in the consumer products. Now it creates just a terrible environment that we have to breathe, and our skins are exposed, too,” said Youngstown Firefighters Union President Tony Ciccone.

Studies show those toxic chemicals make their way into a firefighter’s body and can cause cancer.

Ohio Senate Majority Floor Leader Tom Patton is leading the fight to help firefighters. He introduced the cancer presumption bill, which has failed a few times but passed in the Senate 32 to 1.

Valley lawmaker Joe Schiavoni is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“These guys put their lives on the line every day. They go into situations that many of us could never imagine,” he said.

As it stands now, a firefighter has to go through their medical history to find proof that cancer is job-related in order to get workers’ compensation.

“Going in to see throughout their career, what incidents did they respond to, what were they exposed to long-term, to build that case,” Pitzer said.

The bill still needs approval from the House, and there are only a few sessions left to pass it. If the bill doesn’t pass the House by the end of the year, the effort has to start all over again.

Representative Sean O’Brien got a glimpse of what it’s like to be a firefighter at the state’s fire academy last year. He says this is a common sense bill that should “absolutely” be supported.

“Firefighters are putting their lives in danger for us, and we have seen studies that have shown that these types of cancer occur in higher rates because of the job that they do, so it’s only right that worker’s comp recognize that.”

Pitzer hopes the bill will pass but in the meantime, he’s going to do whatever he can to protect his firefighters from containments. He put new policies in place, such as washing turnout gear and uniforms right after a call, and requiring firefighters to take showers as soon they get back.

Boardman firefighters also have to wear air masks inside a building, even after the fire is knocked out and smoke is cleared, because there are still chemicals in the air.

“I think it’s very important that we take care of the people who take care of us. These folks are going out on a daily basis, risking their lives to save others,” Pitzer said. “The asset in the fire service are the people. It’s not the fire trucks, it’s not the equipment we use. It’s our people that save lives, not our fire trucks.”

Close to three dozen states already have laws in place to protect firefighters.

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