Senate Bill Would Protect Ohio Firefighters From On-The-Job Cancer

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Firefighters across Ohio say it's time lawmakers pass legislation that will allow them to be compensated if they are diagnosed with cancer while on the job.  Cancer rates are seven times higher among firefighters compared to non-firefighting occupations.

Ohio is one of the few states where firefighters can't claim workers compensation for what's called “occupational cancer.”

Outfitting a firefighter costs about $2,000 worth of gear; it’s life- saving equipment.  “It protects us from the heat," says Chief Michael Little of the Violent Township Fire Department

But when firefighters enter a burning building, they're fighting more than flames; they're also fighting to protect themselves against a toxic soup of chemicals sticking to their gear.

Chemicals you wouldn't think could penetrate the gear.

“We're finding reason to believe it can, and that comes from the standpoint in what we're seeing the increase cancer rate with firefighters compared to everyday individuals,” explains Chief Little.

Five years ago, the department began conducting physicals, and that's when the Chief says the cancer concern became real.  “We've help identified cancerous or pre-cancerous conditions in 6 or 7 of our guys.”

Chief Michael Little is convinced the cancers are work related.  The department is now looking at buying two sets of gear to limit exposure.

They are also using baby wipes.  “To wipe off their face, their necks, their hands and their arms,” adds Little.

In Ohio, a firefighter who is diagnosed with cancer while on the job can't claim workers compensation.   A proposed senate bill (Senate bill 27) proposed by State Senator Tom Patton (R), would give firefighters the presumption that their job is toxic to their health.

Mark Sanders is the president of the Ohio Association of professional firefighters, and supports that bill.   “They absorb through the skin which is the largest entry point of your body and we're finding more and more that firefighters are getting exposed.”

As for Chief Little, he says it's time Ohio recognizes on duty deaths and cancer, he says. should be one of them.

Read more: Cancer Rates Among Columbus Firefighters Are Skyrocketing, New Numbers Reveal