From fighting fires to fighting cancer - additional resources an - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

From fighting fires to fighting cancer - additional resources and information

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  • WMBF Investigates: From fighting fires to fighting cancer

    WMBF Investigates: From fighting fires to fighting cancer

    Tuesday, April 28 2015 5:09 PM EDT2015-04-28 21:09:21 GMT
    Friday, May 1 2015 7:19 AM EDT2015-05-01 11:19:25 GMT
    “Firefighter” and “cancer” - the two words are fatally intertwined. It's a hidden risk that can be more dangerous than the fires these men and women work to extinguish, because there's little to no protection from cancer.It doesn't matter what county, city, or neighborhood you live in. If your house is on fire, crews will not think twice about doing whatever it takes to save you and your property. But every moment firefighters are in those toxic fumes, a silent kille...More >>
    “Firefighter” and “cancer” - the two words are fatally intertwined. It's a hidden risk that can be more dangerous than the fires these men and women work to extinguish, because there's little to no protection from cancer.It doesn't matter what county, city, or neighborhood you live in. If your house is on fire, crews will not think twice about doing whatever it takes to save you and your property. But every moment firefighters are in those toxic fumes, a silent kille...More >>

Link to current workman's comp laws: http://scstatehouse.gov/code/t42c011.php

Link to Alabama's bill, which SC is looking to model after: http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/alison/codeofalabama/1975/coatoc.htm

The Albornoz family includes Jeremy (fire fighter), Christine (wife), Hannah (14-year-old step daughter), Declan (newborn son).

Many groups reached out to help Jeremy and his family during his battle with cancer:

· "Fire Department/City allowed me to work whenever I could and wanted to, kept me off the ambulance (or units that would subject me to the more ill patients)"

· "Captain Lewis and Engineer Ryan Quader prepared large meals that we could freeze and heat up"

· "My crew did the research and donated at least $200 to go Family Cord to save my son's umbilical cord blood in case my treatment would not work (it was going to be over $1000 but Family Cord waived other fees and storage costs because of my situation)"

· "A group of the guys came by and took care of yard work"

· "The city's Planning Department raised over $500 to donate to my family for the holidays"

Even though Jeremy is clear of cancer, he has to get the port in his chest flushed with Heparin every month. He has follow-ups with the oncologist every six months or so to check if it has come back.

Here is a look at how much his cancer treatments cost and what was covered by insurance:

· "The total cost for all the procedures was $174,368.86. Insurance covered most of it and I had to pay the max out of pocket each year. My max out of pocket was $2,500 for the year (since we had Declan I had to pay a max out of pocket for Christine of $2,500 but our insurance was really good so max family out of pocket was $5k so Declan was “free”). I learned a lot about insurance during last year. I had to pay more initially because Grand Strand told me that I had to pay almost $1,000 to even have the biopsy done. Later insurance told me that I should not have done that because I owed much less so Grand Strand had to reimburse me. This happened quite often where I had to pay up front and then fight to get money back."

Volunteers make up 80 percent of the fire service in South Carolina and they do not qualify for ANY medical help if they get cancer. If they have any form of insurance from the part-time fire job, it won't cover something like cancer, or chemo, or radiation. And if they attempt to get workman's comp, they don't qualify. Because when you are asked by doctors about workman's comp they ask, “what is your full-time career?” And base compensation on that. Since they work fighting fires part-time, it cannot even be considered.

· “We have to do our due diligence, to ensure that we're taking care of our people. I think the Myrtle Beach Fire Department does that. But does every volunteer fire department have that ability to do those things. So we have to look at the big picture. 80 percent of the firefighters in South Carolina are volunteers. So can we protect everybody? So, you know, that's the struggle. And I don't know that we'll know the answer this year. I don't think it's we're ready to go forward yet. But I think educating our firefighters is the first thing we can do.” – Chief Alvin Payne, MBFR

A big push in the education aspect of this… is trying to change the norms and traditions in the fire house. According to the fire chief from MBFR and any fire fighter you talk to, it used to be a badge of honor to have the blackest helmet covered in the most soot possible. But that is pure carcinogens that can easily be a major cause to getting cancer. Now, cleaning gear is the big push. Clean while you're at the scene, before you get in the truck, once you get back to the station, and leave it out in the bays instead of where they eat and sleep, and to always wash their under shirts and regular clothes at the fire house instead of taking it home to wash, and potentially spreading those carcinogens at home with their families. Now, the chief says being safe is most important – not being the most manly.

· “But you know when you go to a fire, for years it was a big issue about washing your helmet. You know, that was kind of the badge of honor. I've been in the fire and my helmet's dirty, kinda thing. But we try to discourage that. Now we want you to wash that. Take those carcinogens off that turnout gear and that helmet to protect you down the road. Every time you put your hands on that stuff, you're just exposing yourself to more. Those are the things that we're trying to enforce and reinforce to our people and say look, this is important. It's more important than looking tough. And so um, and sometimes in the old school it's a lot of tradition. It's difficult. But I think people are seeing that when you look at health and safety, we have to do our part. Kinda hard to go ask someone else to put the money up to take care of us, if we don't take care of ourselves.” – Chief Alvin Payne, MBFR

Fire departments rarely have enough money in their budget to adequately update gear or install safety equipment in the fire houses to help eliminate smoke risks. For MBFR:

· Gear is on a 5 year replacement plan (it has a 10 year life expectancy)

· Each set is about $1,300, that only covers the coat and pants and does not include boots, helmet, gloves, mask.

· They budget to replace 30 sets of gear each year

A study back in 1985 by NIOSH and OSHA, commissioned by IAFF, showed the hazardous effects of exposing humans to diesel exhaust and carcinogens. Then in 1997 FEMA created the recommendations for building fire houses and that exhaust capture vents be installed. This is basically a specialized filter vent in the bays where the trucks are that would filter out any diesel and carcinogens. When the trucks are resting, they're still emitting diesel which can be very harmful over time if it settles into a fire fighter's gear. They are extremely expensive to install, but federal grants exist. A department has to fill out all the paper work and designate that they are requesting $xx.xx to install x amount of filters. The department will be judged on what safety measures they already have in place and how insufficient they are to determine if a grant will be awarded. But a decision was made so that any station built after 2003 is not eligible for this grant because it was then assumed that in building a new fire house, a filter would automatically be installed in the plans.

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