Firefighters -- often the first responders that answer 911 calls -- accept that their jobs come with risks that most other jobs don't. They run a daily risk of being assaulted, shot, burned, suffocated by smoke, exposed to contagious diseases, and more, just from the nature of their jobs. Cancer is another risk that many firefighters face -- but can they get workers' compensation for it?
Your risk of cancer increases with your exposure to toxic smoke.
The most common form of death in the line of duty for firefighters isn't by fire or suffocation -- it's cancer. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, around 60% of firefighters end up dying from cancer that's caused by exposure to the carcinogens released into the air as furniture and buildings burn. Studies indicate that the risk of lung cancer alone rises with every fire fought.
Lung cancer isn't the only cancer that firefighters contract through their jobs, however. As a result of the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse, many people are aware that asbestos exposure can cause a variety of cancers in firefighters. Modern homes are also filled with a variety of synthetic materials and furnishings, which release lethal mixes of benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide when they burn.
Ongoing research has found that firefighters have higher rates of respiratory, digestive, and urinary cancers. They also suffer from mesothelioma more than the general population. Thyroid and bone cancers are also not uncommon, although studies have yet to definitively link those to toxic smoke exposure.
Your state or local laws may entitle you to presumptive benefits.
Thanks to mounting scientific evidence and public awareness, many states (and some individual cities) have passed laws authorizing the presumptive payment of workers' compensation benefits to firefighters who develop any form of cancer.
However, firefighters in 14 states still lack presumptive coverage. In those states, the burden is put on the firefighter to prove the link between their cancer and specific exposure points to carcinogens. Firefighters argue that it can be impossible to pinpoint the exact points of exposure because the damage is often accumulative.
You can win benefits even if your state doesn't have presumptive coverage.
To help firefighters build evidence for future cases, firefighter organizations are promoting things like specific computer apps that individuals can use to track their exposure to toxins. Things like this can help you build a strong case for workers' comp benefits if your state lacks presumptive coverage.
However, if you're already suffering from cancer, your concerns are more immediate and tracking apps won't help you. In that situation, your best course of action is to hire a workers' compensation attorney to help you pursue benefits. A recent case in Texas, which lacks presumptive coverage, was finally settled in favor of a firefighter suffering from colon cancer. That indicates that courts are taking note of the growing body of evidence linking various cancers to toxic smoke exposure and responding accordingly.
To learn more, contact a workers compensation lawyer like Locklin & Mordhorst.