Butler County firefighters await Kasich’s approval of cancer bill

A bill that could help firefighters diagnosed with cancer as a result of their job is heading to Gov. John Kasich’s office. If signed, firefighters will be insured medical compensation if they become disabled by a certain cancer as a result of their work. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF
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A bill that could help firefighters diagnosed with cancer as a result of their job is heading to Gov. John Kasich’s office. If signed, firefighters will be insured medical compensation if they become disabled by a certain cancer as a result of their work. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/STAFF

A bill that could help firefighters diagnosed with cancer as a result of their job is heading to Gov. John Kasich’s office.

Senate Bill 27 has made its way through the legislature before, but failed. This time around, it passed in the House and Senate.

If signed by Kasich, firefighters will be insured medical compensation if they become disabled by a certain cancer as a result of their work.

A recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that about 68 percent of firefighters get cancer, compared to 22 percent of the general public, regardless of race or gender.

“…We’re exposed to a toxic soup of chemicals and combustion byproducts linked to cancer,” Doug Stern of the Ohio Professional Fire Fighters said. “The reality many of our friends and colleagues are dying with their boots off, and contracting occupationally related cancers far too young of an age with more aggressive types of cancers.”

Some lawmakers have expressed concerns about the strain the measure could put on municipalities’ budgets.

Tony Harris, president of the Hamilton Local IAFF 20, said he is hopeful that Kasich will sign Senate Bill 27 since more than 30 states already have legislation like this to assist firefighters who receive a cancer diagnosis.

“We are hopeful that he will do the right thing and sign it,” Harris said.

Many firefighters return to the job after a cancer diagnosis, according to Stern. Senate Bill 27 gives them the opportunity to do so without fear of running out of leave time and facing the possibility of losing their job, he said.

Although better training and education about how to minimize the risk are in place, firefighters are still going to be exposed to harmful agents, he said.

“Ohio firefighters are working on reducing our exposures, but we can’t eliminate all of the risk,” he said, adding that some contaminants are absorbed through the skin.

If signed by Kasich, the bill would allow firefighters to access benefits through the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation and Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund.

According to lawmakers, until this bill was passed, Ohio was one of just 16 states that did not recognize the link between fighting fires and cancer.

Kasich is expected to sign the bill into law within the next two weeks.