While the number of firefighters developing cancer rises, the legislation has remained the same year after year.
“Cancer in the fire service is at epidemic levels,” said Heather Mazurkiewicz with North Collier Fire and Rescue.
When a firefighter runs into a burning building, he or she is exposed to all kinds of toxins. Associate Medical Director, Jeff Panozzo, says that technology, along with other things, has increased the risk. “A fire when it burns, they don’t burn clean,” Panozzo said. “In the common residence nowadays at home has lots of electronic equipment that contains materials in them that, as they’re burned, offload various gasses.”
The link between the job’s danger and the chances of developing cancer are clear, but not all states recognize this.
“The idea behind presumptive legislation is that if a firefighter is diagnosed with cancer it is presumed that it is an on the job, occupational disease. Right now I think its 40 or 41 states in the United States have some level of presumptive or cancer coverage. In the state of Florida, that isn’t the case,” Mazurkiewicz said.
Florida is one of the states that does not consider cancer an ‘occupational disease’ for firefighters. Meaning it is not recognized as a disease they developed while on the job.
“So, if a firefighter is diagnosed in the state of Florida, it is not presumed that it is an occupational disease, therefore they do not have the benefit of coverages that are extended to other firefighters in other states,” Mazurkiewicz said.
In 2017, Mazurkiewicz says that upwards of 73% of the line of duty deaths in firefighters are attributed to cancer. This number does not include volunteer firefighters, retired firefighters and firefighters in states where cancer is not considered a line of duty death.
Not only do the Florida firefighters not receive the same benefits as other states while battling cancer, if they die, their families are left with the financial burden.
“If a firefighter passes away from the occupational disease of cancer because there are no extended benefits in the worker’s compensations system then their family is left with nothing,” said Mazurkiewicz.
The only way this changes, is if the Florida Legislature changes the future for firefighters.
This year, there was a bill filed with the Florida Senate to try and get benefits to firefighters when they receive a cancer diagnosis. This bill would have helped with disability payments and death benefits if the firefighter died as a result of cancer. This bill died in appropriations, which is the committee of the Senate that handles the budget. The bill died before it made it to a full vote.
To view more on the Florida Senate bill, visit: