Environment Human Rights

Bill to turn six cancers into presumed occupational hazards of firefighters gains support

Photo courtesy Jared Cherup via Flickr.
Written by Connor Perrett

Under a proposed Ohio law, firefighters who suffer from one of six types of cancer would automatically be assumed to have gotten the disease as a result of their work.

“This is not a new development. It’s been revisited in Ohio, and it’s been revisited in some of the states where it’s not in place, but most of the states in the United States do already have presumptive legislation for firefighter cancer,” said Tim Elliott of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, a California-based organization whose mission is to assist firefighters and their families in the event of a cancer diagnosis.  

Under Senate Bill 27, firefighters who have been employed as firefighters and been assigned to hazardous duty for at least three years would be presumed to have contracted skin, lung, brain, kidney, bladder, rectum, stomach, skin or prostate cancer as an on-the-job hazard. Additionally, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma and testicular or colorectal cancers would also be considered presumed hazards under the proposed legislation.

This is not the first time Patton has proposed the law in a general assembly in Ohio — it’s the fourth. But he says changes made to the bill this time around make it more likely to be passed by both the Senate and the House.

“Senate Bill 27 is much smaller,” Patton said. “In past years, it’s been a much broader bill. We’ve cut it down to six specific type of cancers, we have eliminated volunteer firefighters — so, only professional firefighters, and there are currently, as of February, 36 other states that acknowledge this in some form. Ohio’s in the minority here.”  

Doug Stern, an Ohio firefighter and member of the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, agrees, noting that previous bills were unpopular because of their broad language.  

“It’s definitely different this time,” Stern said. “(The previous legislation) was a widespread bill, it covered any cancers and infectious disease in firefighters, and police officers were added in a couple of times. This bill is specifically for professional firefighters and only for the types of cancer that have the scientific proof that they are occupationally related to our jobs.”

He said with the current law in Ohio, it’s nearly impossible to claim cancer as a hazard of the profession. After falling through a Cincinnati floor while fighting a fire, Stern said he dislocated his hip and was able to submit a successful claim to the Ohio Bureau of Worker’s’ Compensation because he was able to prove that it was an on-the-job injury.

“But there’s many reasons we can’t do that for cancer,” Stern added. “We can’t point to one instance where a firefighter gets cancer — it’s kind of a prolonged exposure to certain chemicals and carcinogens. So, this bill puts the burden of proof on the employer to show that the employee did not get cancer through that.”

Patton believes his bill will pass the House without problem, but notes the House is more weary about giving this bill hearings. He noted a similar bill is present in the House; HB 292 was proposed by Rep. Christina Hagan, R-Alliance, in July of last year.  

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Connor Perrett

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