Firefighters May Soon Have Greater Federal Workers’ Compensation Coverage for Certain Occupational Illnesses

Silverman, McDonald & Friedman is proud to represent injured firefighters, law enforcement officials, and EMS personnel. If you have sustained an injury in the course of your work, please contact us for help. We maintain offices in Seaford, Wilmington, and Newark.

Firefighters encounter numerous hazards during the course of their efforts to save lives. Many people assume these individuals sign up for the job knowing exactly what to expect in terms of health risks. However, the risks posed to firefighters have been continually reassessed as more knowledge is gathered about the proven effects of certain hazards, particularly those that have been shown to cause illness.

One serious issue that firefighters face is the risk of exposure to cancer-causing agents. In fact, cancer is a leading cause of death among these heroic individuals who risk their lives on our behalf.

Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2019

The United States Senate has recently introduced legislation to modify the Federal Employee Compensation Act, to lessen certain restrictions related to workers’ compensation that are currently imposed upon firefighters.

As of now, federal law fails to designate certain occupational illnesses that affect individuals engaged in fire protection services. Currently, firefighters must prove the conditions that resulted in their illness and the exact exposure level they experienced in order to qualify for retirement disability payments.

Compared to the entire U.S. population, it has been shown that firefighters experience a 9% increase in cancer diagnoses and a 14% increase in cancer related deaths – this according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the NIOSH are required under the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2019 to update Congress on the carrying out of this legislation. If the Act becomes law, it would place federal workers’ compensation benefits on an equal footing with the majority of states in the Union – 42 specifically – that have presumptive disability laws on the books recognizing cancers and other diseases contracted by firefighters as work-related. The legislation is supported by the International Association of Federal Firefighters and the American Federation of Government Employees. The House of Representatives has put forth a related version of the bill.

Evidence supporting the risk of cancer firefighters face

Firefighters can inhale smoke that contains many types of carcinogens. What firefighters may breathe in depends on the location of the emergency call. The University of Ottawa and Canada conducted a study that produced some alarming results.

The researchers in the study obtained urine and skin samples from firefighters when they started their shifts and then after they attended to a fire. According to the results, levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as well as other dangerous chemicals increased by a factor of 3 to 5+ after exposure to the fire. PAHs have the potential to cause DNA mutations and cancer. The risk of genetic mutations increased by four times after the fire compared to before. This was the first study to examine the chemical exposure risks due to the smoke of fires.

Sustaining an illness or injury such as cancer as a result of your honorable service as a firefighter can force a drastic change in your life. You may lose the ability to work, have mounting medical bills, and suffer physically in various ways. At Silverman, McDonald & Friedman, we can help you pursue the rightful financial recovery you deserve if you have suffered as a firefighter from exposure to dangerous chemicals and substances in the field. To set up a free consultation in Wilmington, Seaford, or Newark, call our Delaware workers’ compensation lawyer today at 302-888-2900 or complete our contact form.