In April 2016, we provided an update on Senate Bill 27, which would create a presumption that firefighters disabled as a result of cancer incurred the cancer while working—and therefore, those firefighters would qualify for workers’ compensation (WC) coverage.
More than 30 states have enacted laws that recognize a presumption that when firefighters get cancer, it is job related. We are extremely pleased to report that, on January 4, Ohio became the newest state to offer firefighters this valuable protection when Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 27, now known as the Michael Louis Palumbo Jr. Act, into law. This new law streamlines the process by which firefighters diagnosed with specific cancers linked to their hazardous duties can access the WC benefits and medical treatment they deserve.
Firefighters today are being diagnosed with cancer at abnormally high rates. About 68 percent of firefighters get cancer, which is three times the rate of the general population, according to a 2013 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Results from the study, while not proving a direct link, found that about 68 percent of firefighters get cancer, compared to 22 percent of the general public, regardless of race or gender. The study also found that firefighters experienced more cancer deaths and cancer cases than was initially expected, and cancers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems accounted mostly for the higher rates of cancer seen in the study population.
Some cancers, such as bladder and prostate cancers, also occurred at a higher-than-expected rate among younger fighters, according to the study. Researchers concluded that the higher rates they found suggest that firefighters are more likely to develop those particular types of cancers.
Additionally, firefighters in the study were found to have had a rate of mesothelioma two times greater than the rate in the general U.S. population. This study was the first study to identify an excess of mesothelioma in U.S. firefighters. Researchers stated that it was likely that the findings were associated with exposure to asbestos, a known cause of mesothelioma.
Gaining Benefits Due to Illness an Uphill Battle—Until Now
Despite the alarming rate of firefighter cancer, and results from the NIOSH study, firefighters have found it hard to get WC benefits for their illnesses.
Now, through the Act, which was introduced to the Ohio General Assembly no less than four times by State Sen. Tom Patton of Strongsville, firefighters diagnosed with specific cancers linked to their hazardous duties have much easier access to the WC benefits and medical treatment they deserve. The bill is named after Beachwood Fire Captain Michael Palumbo Jr., currently fighting aggressive brain cancer.
Still in question is whether any part of this bill that could be retroactive for firefighters currently battling cancer.
Most experts believe that cancer arises from exposure to potentially hazardous substances. For firefighters, that means exposure to such hazards potentially occurs each time they enter a burning building. Depending on the fire, exposure can be prolonged. Those hazardous materials can also remain on firefighter gear even after the fire is put out.
The attorneys at Nager, Romaine & Schneiberg Co., L.P.A. strongly support passage of the Michael Louis Palumbo Jr. Act, and we applaud State Sen. Patton’s efforts to facilitate WC coverage for firefighters who incur cancer. In the event you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer as a result of on-the-job firefighting, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact the Ohio workers comp lawyers at NRS Injury Law by filling out our No-Risk Consultation form, or call (855) GOT-HURT and speak with one of our trained staff members.