Coinciding with the beginning of Fire Prevention Week, Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. (D–East Lansing) and Rep. Winnie Brinks (D–Grand Rapids) have introduced legislation to include breast cancer as an eligible condition under the First Responder Presumed Coverage Fund — a fund that currently recognizes, and covers medical benefits for, 10 other cancers that fire fighters may develop.
“Our first responders risk their lives and their health to help us, and we should be making sure they are taken care of when they get sick,” Sen. Hertel said. “When fire fighters develop cancer because of the hazards in their job environments, they deserve to be taken care of — regardless of gender.”
The First Responders Presumed Coverage Fund was created by Michigan lawmakers and signed into law as Public Act 515 in 2014[legislature.mi.gov]. It provides medical benefits coverage to fire fighters if they develop testicular, prostate, lung, bladder, skin, brain, kidney, blood, thyroid or lymphatic cancers.
Breast cancer, however, is not included on the list.
“I’ve fought to make sure that women get the life-saving breast cancer care they need throughout my time at the Capitol, and now it’s female fire fighters who need help,” Rep. Brinks said. “Fire fighters heroically put their lives at stake to help their neighbors. Now they are reporting higher than expected levels of breast cancer, and it’s our turn to come to their aid. Our proposal will make sure that fire fighters with breast cancer get the medical help they need.”
Recent case studies in the San Francisco Fire Department, where 15.3 percent of the force is female[ufsw.org], suggest an increase in breast cancer among women firefighters. In addition, studies have shown that workplace exposure to certain chemicals[ilr.cornell.edu] (i.e., formaldehyde and benzene) can raise the risk of developing breast cancer.
According to the president of the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union, Mark Docherty, the profession is risky despite preventive measures.
“We’re working hard to protect fire fighters from workplace exposures, but there isn’t an easy fix,” Docherty said. “We welcome the leadership of Sen. Hertel and Rep. Brinks on this issue.”