Is Montana finally in line to allow workers' compensation coverage to firefighters who develop lung diseases over the course of their employment? If so, the state will become the latest to conform to what is now the practice in a majority of states. Here is what you should know.
Firefighters are more likely to develop cancer than other people.
The medical evidence seems fairly clear: firefighters, by virtue of their exposure to toxic fumes, smoke, and chemical-laden air that contains everything from asbestos fibers to formaldehyde from household insulation that's gone up in flames, end up with more cases of cancer than the general population.
One study, spanning from 1950 to 2009, found firefighters have a statistically significant risk of developing lung cancer or leukemia. But that's hardly the only evidence that firefighters are put in greater danger of cancer as an occupational hazard. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health determined that firefighters generally have higher rates of cancer than other people, including those of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary system. They also have double the cases of mesothelioma than the general population. Researchers have determined that 68 percent of firefighters go on to develop some form of cancer, compare to only about 22 percent of the general population. That's slightly more than three times the number of cancer victims than should be expected.
Recognition of the connection between the firefighter's job and cancer has been slow.
As much as doctors know about cancer, they still can't identify the exact cause of every cancer out there. That's made insurers reluctant to extend workers' comp benefits to firefighters for cancer, even when the relationship might seem obvious—like in the case of a man in his thirties who has never smoked but develops lung cancer anyhow. It's been even harder to get insurers to accept the connection between firefighting and things like prostate cancer because the connections grow increasingly less obvious as the type of cancer becomes less directly relevant to the work.
Still, there's been a lot of progress in the last decade toward getting victims the workers' comp benefits they deserve for putting their lives—and health—on the line for others. As of April 2016, there were 33 states that had some form of presumptive coverage for firefighters with cancer.
The current measure before the Montana senate, Bill 72, would amend state law so that coverage under workers' comp would be presumed unless the insurer can prove the illness resulted from something else. The coverage would also cover volunteer firefighters, who outnumber their professional counterparts in the state. There would be some restrictions, though—a newly hired firefighter would have to submit to a full exam within 90 days of his or her start date just to make sure that he or she doesn't have a pre-existing condition. Coverage would also be capped at a maximum of five years after the end of service, depending on how long they had held the job.
If you are a former or current firefighter with cancer, the changing laws make it important to seek the advice of a workers' comp attorney in your area for advice. Click here to read more.