LANSING, Mich. — A pair of bills to expand protections for thousands of firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer have made their way over to the Michigan Senate.
It is an issue state Representative Jeff Yaroch has been working on since he joined the legislature.
Yaroch is a former firefighter and says this is something that is very personal for him.
“And then when I got to the legislature I was working on expanding cancer presumption and an unfortunate irony was that I was diagnosed a year into being in the legislature with prostate cancer. So right now, I’m a prostate cancer survivor. It further drove home what I was working on because I experienced it personally," said Yaroch via Zoom.
Current law only allows for full-time firefighters who get certain kinds of cancer to be eligible for workers' compensation but under the proposed legislation, that would change to include both volunteer and part-time firefighters and to add cancers that are unique to women.
“We have three more cancers which are female-based cancers which are ovarian, cervical and breast cancer. Because we have a smaller amount of firefighter in the fire service, it took longer to find the research," said Michigan Professional Firefighter's Union president, Mark Docherty.
The bills passed the state House last week. If they gain Senate approval – the impact would be wide-ranging.
“Right now there’s 7,600 full-time firefighters that would be eligible. And the total for the state is 29,150 of everyone that is paid, on call, part-time and volunteer," said Yaroch.
Docherty says offering workers comp to more first-responders is crucial because they put their lives on the line every single day and deserve to be covered.
“The alarming numbers re over a lifetime, 84% of firefighters will come down with cancer, Its way higher than the general public. It’s a risk we understand. It’s a risk we take in addition to all the other obvious risks of firefighting. But we also do what we can to minimize, we don’t just accept that fact.”
Docherty says many firefighters find themselves out of a job when they get diagnosed with cancer because often times employers don’t recognize the condition as a workplace injury.
This means that first-responders has no income and no health insurance.
The state has earmarked four-million dollars to pay these types of claims, for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
We have reached out to the The House Fiscal Agency to find out how much the expansion is estimated to cost but at the time of this report have not heard back.
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