Some dangers of firefighting are easy to see. There are the flames, the unstable structures, the explosions, the perilous heights. Other dangers of the job are not so easy to see. Once firefighters leave an incident scene, they’re not in the clear. The toxins from the flames and fumes they inhale can slowly break down their bodies.
Cancer Risk among Florida Firefighters
A 2020 study from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine looked at over 100,000 career firefighters from Florida. The authors found that both men and women were at elevated risk for many different kinds of cancer.
Thankfully, however, it’s now a lot easier for those Florida firefighters to be covered for cancer-related treatments. In 2019, Florida passed a bill which stated that, “a firefighter is entitled to cancer treatment and a one-time cash payout of $25,000, upon the firefighter’s initial diagnosis of cancer.”
Florida’s Firefighters’ Presumptive Cancer Bill
The bill is commonly called the “firefighters’ presumptive cancer” bill because it presumes that the firefighter developed cancer in the line of duty. Previously, firefighters had to seek funds through workers’ compensation coverage and demonstrate that their firefighting duties were a plausible cause of their cancer diagnosis. This process was not always successful, and even if it was, it typically took a long time for funds to be issued to the claimant. The one-time cash payout in the new bill is intended to provide firefighters diagnosed with cancer the resources they need to pay for their treatment up front. The bill also requires that employers reimburse the claimant for any out-of-pocket expenses of treatment.
In order to qualify for the benefits, an individual must have been employed as a firefighter continuously in the 5 years preceding their diagnosis and not have used tobacco products during that period.
The bill was met with resistance from groups like the Florida League of Cities, a group that advocates on behalf of Florida municipal governments. In a letter that they sent to Governor Ron DeSantis, they wrote that, “The bill should be vetoed because…it would not be feasible to implement without raising local property taxes.” The letter also expressed concerns that it would dissuade full-time firefighters from volunteering for other fire companies since that work could disqualify them from receiving the benefits provided by the new law.
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and Chief Fire Marshall, Jimmy Patronis, responded, “It’s shameful that the Florida League of Cities is pressuring Gov. DeSantis to veto a great bill which will ensure our firefighters receive the cancer coverage they need and deserve.” Patronis has continued to address the high incidence of cancer among firefighters. Just recently, he announced an expansion of a program that provides cancer-mitigating safety gear.
The presumptive cancer bill ultimately passed unanimously in both the State House of Representatives and Senate. Florida’s firefighters devote themselves to keeping their communities safe. The presumptive cancer benefit law demonstrates that their communities appreciate that service and that they recognize that they have a debt of gratitude to pay.