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Federal legislation advances to cover work-related cancers for firefighters

Matt C.
The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act recently advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor recently advanced the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act. If passed into law, firefighters who contract work-related cancers and illnesses would receive more coverage and benefits.

Evidence that firefighters are at greater risk of developing work-related cancers has become overwhelming in recent years. This awareness campaign stems back to several 9/11 first responders dying from cancers while clearing debris and conducting search and rescue operations at the World Trade Center.

This caused fire departments across the country to analyze their safety procedures and look deeper into potential risks on the job.

One of those departments was the Traverse City Fire Department.

“We've had several retired members develop cancer later in life," said Jacob Steichen, President of the Traverse City Firefighter's Union. "We're doing a whole lot better job of monitoring and staying aware of our active members.”

Last year, the state of Michigan state passed a law to expand some protections for firefighters.

However, the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act provides extended coverage for lung disease, heart disease, brain cancer, bladder cancer and several other illnesses that could be contracted while on the job.

The list of cancers also include breast and ovarian for female firefighters.

Even though firefighters like Steichen are aware of the potential harms of the job, he said he is willing to keeping serving and the extended benefits would help give him better peace of mind for him and his family if he gets sick.

The new extended benefits would have a potential impact on recruitment and retention of new firefighters.

“When we hear a firefighter getting cancer more frequently," said Steichen, "that's gonna give some pause to people before they come into the career.”

The bill now moves to the full U.S. House of Representatives.

Rick Brewer has been news director at WCMU since February 2024.
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