Proposed bill would make cancer an occupational disease for firefighters

Firefighter Cancer Bill

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A proposed bill in the State House would make cancer an occupational disease for firefighters.

Local fire officials said this would help with workers’ compensation, and if a current or former firefighter passed away from cancer, it would be considered a line-of-duty death.

"The nature of the business is you work around carcinogens and there’s a really good chance that something’s going to happen,” said Rob Mullaney, president of the Horry County Professional Firefighters.

Whether it’s at the scene of a fire or back at the station, firefighters are regularly exposed to carcinogens.

“I mean that’s what firefighters fight is carcinogens,” said Mullaney. “It’s not in the old days where these houses are wood. Everything is made out of plastics now and that’s where a lot of carcinogens come from.”

“We deal with it on multiple levels here with our trucks; they push out diesel fumes,” said Myrtle Beach Fire Department Lt. Jonathan Evans.

Evans said in the past five years, four MBFD firefighters were diagnosed with cancer.

"Fortunately, they're all doing well but even so, at a very young age, a lot of people had trouble with cancer and we contribute that to the job,” he said.

A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety shows firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnosis, and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population in the U.S.

"In 2016 70 percent of line of duty deaths for firefighters - I think it was 70 percent - were cancer-related. You’re almost guaranteed to get some form of it at some point,” Mullaney said.

The proposed bill says changing cancer to an occupational disease would help with workers’ compensation.

Mullaney said if a former or current firefighter dies of cancer, it will be considered a line-of-duty death.

"It's the difference between getting life insurance and having full burial honors like honor guard and the full funeral process, and not having that,” he said.

Fire officials from across the state will be heading to Columbia next week to speak with lawmakers about this issue.

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