Everyone knows that firefighting is a dangerous job; However, most people don’t know how dangerous or why.
A growing body of research and data shows that occupational exposures lead to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Cancer is currently the leading killer of firefighters across the country.
In 2013, the National Institute for Safety and Health at Work conducted two extensive studies on cancer in firefighters. It concluded that firefighters’ risk for some specific cancers is significantly higher than that of the general population.
We are more likely to develop cancer and suffer from its effects at a younger age than the rest of our population. For example, NIOSH found that firefighters were 100% more likely than the general public to develop the very rare malignant mesothelioma from cancer and 129% more likely to die from it. In addition to the increased risk of mesothelioma, firefighters have:
62% increased risk of developing esophageal cancer and a 39% higher mortality rate
102% higher risk of testicular cancer
53% increase in multiple myeloma
51% increase in non-Hodgkin lymphoma
39% higher risk of skin cancer
And the list goes on …
Numerous other decades of research projects with more than 80,000 firefighters have confirmed the connection between fire fighting and occupational cancer.
As a result, the Federal Government passed the Fire Brigade Cancer Register Act in 2018. This bill requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and maintain a registry of firefighters to collect history and professional information that can be linked to existing data in state cancer registries.
The registry must be used to improve the surveillance of cancer in firefighters and to collect and publish epidemiological information on cancer in firefighters.
The Illinois General Assembly determined that firefighters must perform unusual tasks during times of stress and danger. that firefighters are exposed to extreme heat or extreme cold in the performance of their duties at certain times of the year; that they have to work and are exposed to strong smoke and carcinogenic, toxic, poisonous or chemical gases from fires; and that these conditions exist and arise from or during the employment relationship.
Because of the known association between fire fighting and increased cancer risk, the state of Illinois has enacted alleged disability laws. The alleged Illinois laws apply to all active firefighters with more than five years of credible service who suffer from certain types of cancer that develop or manifest during a time while the firefighter is on duty for the fire department. These laws only stipulate that certain illnesses are automatically assumed to be work-related, unless there is irrefutable evidence to the contrary.
The City of Rockford and the Rockford Fire Department recognize the increased risk of cancer for Rockford firefighters. As a result, they have introduced several new policies and procedures over the past few years to address the problem. For example, from 2016 to 2020, they spent over $ 350,000 reducing the risk of exposure to carcinogens building up on equipment worn by firefighters.
So, with all the science and data they are using to justify the implementation of these new policies and procedures, why does our city and department continue to turn away from our sisters and brothers in times of need?
Why are they continuing to violate the alleged laws enacted to protect us by arbitrarily denying our workers compensation and disability claims? Where are the mayor and the other elected officials who are eager to support us in the election years?
We don’t need to hear the tired stereotypes of you celebrating our courage to walk in while others walk out. We need you to meet your obligations and keep your end of the bargain. We need you to take care of those of us who become sick because of our work. We need your support in order to manifest in the form of action when we are struggling to provide for ourselves and for our families.
The dates are clear. The laws were made to protect us. It is time for the city to take cancer seriously in the fire brigade and face up to its responsibilities.
Christoper Scrol is President of IAFF Local 413.
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