CANCER'S IMPACT ON FIREFIGHTERS
With all the research studies conducted over the past several decades repeatedly establishing a causal link between firefighting and cancer, and since firefighters are considered heroes by most people's definition, one would assume they'd get all the support they need when stricken with occupational cancer.
Unfortunately, reality paints a different picture.
Local jurisdictions have a tendency to resist granting workers' compensation benefits to firefighters when they are diagnosed with occupational cancer. For this reason, it seems as though every time we turn around these days, there's another news story (here's an example) about a political war being waged in some state or other over whether or not the hands of local jurisdictions within that state should be forced to do so through presumptive legislation.
Although 34 states have presumptive laws in place for firefighters (meaning it is presumed that certain cancers were caused by firefighting unless it can be proven otherwise), there have been instances in which zero funding is provided to actually make it happen. Further, jurisdictions have been known to fight against granting a firefighter his or her rightful benefits even when his or her specific cancer is on the state's presumptive list of covered cancers, dragging the firefighter through a legal battle and demanding that the firefighter produce substantial evidence that can prove the exact fire(s) which caused the cancer. This puts firefighters under a great amount of duress on top of what they're already experiencing as they struggle to obtain proper medical care and to maintain the ability to still support themselves and their families.
According to an article written by the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), Dave Potter had been a dedicated firefighter in Puyallup, Washington, for 16 years in 2005 when he learned he had T-cell lymphocytic leukemia. Potter contracted the cancer as a result of dangerous toxins he had been exposed to on the job. Even though Washington had enacted presumptive laws, Potter died before he received the treatment he needed. "He died because he needed a bone marrow transplant, and could not afford the $60,000 cost of the procedure," explained Kevin Rojecki, at that time the legislative liaison for the Washington State Council of Firefighters. "He died because his workers' compensation claim was denied." See article in the Insurance Journal.
Code 3 for a Cure President Lorenzo Abundiz, survivor of three different forms of occupational cancer, was dragged through a legal battle in response to his request for workers' compensation coverage for his first cancer, a rare and highly aggressive leiomyosarcoma. Recalling the memory of sitting in a deposition hearing with drainage tubes hanging off his side during that time, Abundiz chose not to submit a claim for workers' compensation benefits for his ensuing two cancers--this despite information received from his doctors that traces of tar were found in the makeup of his bladder tumor (cancer no. 2). To him, it wasn't worth the stress. (Abundiz had never smoked a cigarette in his life, but during ventilation procedures he was often on top of roofs, widely known to contain tar paper.)
Unfortunately, these are not just a few isolated cases of firefighters struggling to get help when stricken with occupational cancer (see below), and not all firefighters have workers' compensation coverage available to them as an option. For example, many states lack coverage for volunteer firefighters, which comprise 70% of firefighters in the U.S.
More Stories of Firefighters Battling Cancer
One aspect of Code 3 for a Cure's purpose is to provide financial assistance to firefighters (whether active or retired and whether salaried, paid call, or volunteer) throughout the United States who are battling cancer.
We began issuing funds in June 2012.
As of November 2016, Code 3 for a Cure has issued 57 checks to firefighters and their families in 21 different states across the U.S. This includes:
- a retired career Firefighter in Missouri who was spending his entire monthly retirement check on liver medications as he battled liver cancer;
- an 11-year paid call Firefighter in Maine who was on a leave of absence from his regular job with no disability insurance, struggling to keep his home as he underwent chemotherapy and radiation five days a week in preparation for an upcoming whipple surgery to address pancreatic cancer;
- a retired 26-year career Firefighter in Texas battling stage 3 colon cancer who was having difficulty affording the fuel costs to get to and from his treatments;
- a 34-year volunteer Firefighter in New York battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia who had been out of work for two years with no set time to return to the workforce as he continued to deal with complications from his cancer battle and treatments;
- a 33-year volunteer Firefigher in Pennsylvania fighting Stage 4 Colon and Liver cancers who was self-employed with no disability coverage and was very limited in his ability to work due to several surgeries and the current round of chemotheraphy treatments;
- a 28-year salaried/paid call/volunteer Firefighter in South Carolina fighting Stage 4 lung cancer who was backed up on medical bills and was two months behind on his mortgage;
- a 16-year paid-call/volunteer Firefighter in Minnesota with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma who had been unable to return to his full-time job since diagnosis and whose cancer had returned, along with a lung disease resulting from chemotherapy treatments;
- a 26-year salaried/volunteer Firefighter in North Carolina fighting Stage 4 Metastatic Salivary Adenocarcinoma whose wife lost her job in the middle of his battle;
- a 39-year volunteer Fire Captain in Pennsylvania with Stage 4 brain cancer whose wife became unemployed after using up all of her FMLA leave to care for him;
- an 11-year paid call Firefighter in New Hampshire battling Melanoma whose wife passed away in the middle of his battle, leaving him with no income and three children to support;
- a 48-year volunteer Firefighter in South Carolina fighting Stage 4 Lymphoma who was struggling with bills and fuel costs to travel to and from medical appointments;
- a 30-year volunteer Firefighter in South Carolina battling Stage 4 Lung, Liver, and Colon cancers who was on disability and couldn't afford everyday needs;
- the wife of a 14-year volunteer Firefighter in Illinois, who, after 39 years of marriage, lost her husband to kidney cancer five weeks after diagnosis and was shouldered with resulting medical bills;
- and many more.