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Firefighter cancer presumption bill — success at last?

By Staff | May 1, 2019

The facts as presented apparently -?and finally – spoke for themselves this year:

According to firefighter cancer studies shared with state legislators as part of a plea for cancer presumption legislation:

– Cancer was the No. 1 killer of firefighters in 2018, with 74 percent of all deaths linked to the disease.

-Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population.

-?Masks and breathing apparatus don’t provide protections from carcinogens that permeate the skin despite diligent decontamination procedures for apparatus and gear.

– Firefighting has become progressively more dangerous due to chemicals in plastics, electronics, manmade fibers and other items found in homes and businesses.

Maybe it wasn’t just the pitch. Maybe it was the growing sets of empty boots in the courtyard of the Capitol – 500 this year, all representing a firefighter who succumbed to cancer as a result of saving lives and property.

Or maybe it was the tenacious efforts of firefighters like Heather Mazurkiewicz, Cape Coral’s own force of nature, who would not give up until Florida considered legislation already made law in all but a half dozen or so states across the nation.

Regardless of the reason or reasons, this year’s cancer presumption bill, which appeared all but dust, got a last-minute kindle. It unanimously passed a key House committee, unanimously sailed through the Senate and finally the House on Wednesday, meaning legislation firefighters have been asking for for nearly two decades will go to the governor’s office for signature or veto.

We urge Gov. DeSantis to sign it.

It’s time.

And, despite the costs that prompted the Florida League of Cities to oppose the measure, it’s the right thing to do.

According to the Florida Senate Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement on cancer studies regarding firefighters:

“The incidence of cancer among firefighters appears to be higher on average than other occupations. Firefighters work in inherently dangerous situations on a daily basis. They are exposed to many different carcinogens, either inhaled or absorbed through the skin both on the scene and in the firehouse …”

Presumptive legislation basically acknowledges that a specific type of illness, in this case a variety of specified cancers, are an employment risk. Firefighters already “may be eligible for benefits upon a showing by a preponderance of the evidence that exposure to a specific toxic substance, at the levels to which the first responder was exposed, can cause the injury or disease sustained by the employee and that the exposure arose out of employment.” The legislation shifts the burden of proof from the stricken employee to the employer, who then can only deny benefits if it can prove that the firefighter’s working conditions were not a significant contributing factor to the development of the illness.

According to the analysis and fiscal impact statement, the legislation will:

“SB 426 makes firefighters who are diagnosed with certain cancers eligible to receive certain disability or death benefits. Specifically, in lieu of pursuing workers’ compensation coverage, a firefighter is entitled to cancer treatment, at no cost to the firefighter, and a one-time cash payout of $25,000, upon the firefighter’s initial diagnosis of cancer. In order to be entitled to such benefits, the firefighter must:

“Be employed full-time as a firefighter;

“Be employed by the state, university, city, county, port authority, special district, or fire control district;

“Have been employed by his or her employer for at least 5 continuous years;

“Not have used tobacco products for at least the preceding 5 years; and

“Have not been employed in any other position in the preceding 5 years which is proven to create a higher risk for cancer …”

The types of cancers covered, 21, are specifically defined.

The legislation also states that employers “must provide coverage within an employer-sponsored health plan or through a group health insurance trust fund. The firefighter may not be required to contribute toward any deductible, co-payment, or coinsurance amount for the treatment of cancer.”

Affected firefighters would be entitled to a full and no-cost disability retirement plan until death, and his or her survivors would receive death benefits.

The bill calls for $920,329 from the state budget and $3,144,926 in county contributions. The funds would be pushed to the local level throughout all of the counties. Miami/Dade, which would pay the most, supported the bill.

After years of trying, it looks like presumption legislation proponents have victory all but within their grasp.

We urge Gov. DeSantis not to snatch it away.

And we thank firefighters like Heather Mazurkiewicz for their tenacity, and for their dedication in the face of risk.

– Eagle editorial