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5 things you need to know about Michigan firefighters and cancer

Mar 9, 2016

Michigan firefighters came in from across the state this week to rally in Lansing,  trying to force lawmakers to finally put some actual money in the First Responder's Fund.

It doesn't seem like it should be that hard, since the Legislature created that fund more than a year ago to cover firefighters who get job-related cancer.

More than half of all states already have something similar. 

But Michigan lawmakers never got around to putting any money in the fund they created. Since then, 8 active-duty firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer, according to the state union. One of them died just last month. 

If you've missed this story or are just catching up, here are 5 takeaways on what's happening in Michigan.

 

Steve Carmody
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

1. Firefighters have a higher risk for developing cancer.

Several studies say  firefighters have a significantly higher risk of developing certain cancers, even when they’re young.  

Michigan Radio ran a series last April looking at the ways firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals (hint: modern furniture) and what some Michigan fire stations are doing to make the job a little safer. 

2. The state recognized 10 types of cancer that should be covered.

If the state-created fund ever gets some money, it would provide workers' comp coverage to firefighters when they're diagnosed with certain types of cancer that researchers have repeatedly linked to firefighting: 

  • bladder
  • skin
  • brain
  • kidney
  • blood
  • thyroid
  • testicular
  • prostate
  • and two types of lymphatic cancer

3. Eventually, female firefighters want to see breast cancer added to that list 

While the law covers prostate and testicular cancer, it doesn’t cover breast cancer. 

That's partly because there aren't a lot of female firefighters, compared with how many male firefighters there are, which makes comprehensive studies on their occupational breast cancer risk more limited. 

But those studies are starting to happen, and eventually, Michigan firefighters like Verdine Day would like to see breast cancer covered, too.

4. Michigan firefighters think they're covered, but they're not 

Because there was so much celebration when the Legislature passed the First Responder's Fund last year, firefighters began to assume they were covered.

They did so until their worker's comp claims were denied. 

When Doug Batty was diagnosed with leukemia after almost collapsing at a house fire last year, he couldn't figure out why his worker's comp claim was turned down. When he asked the insurance company's customer service rep if she'd heard about the First Responder's Fund in Michigan, she laughed. 

“And she said, ‘Yeah, but really, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Because there’s no funding for it,’" Batty says. "And that just kind of let the wind out of my sails, so I looked into it, and she was right.”

5. But maybe - just maybe - that could change soon.

Because of renewed interest from the media and from lawmakers in Lansing, legislators are finally making moves to put money in the fund. State Senator Curtis Hertel, D-Meridian Twp., recently introduced a new bill to put $3 million in the firefighter's fund this year. 

But it's moving slowly. While there's bipartisan support for the bill in the state Senate, it looks like the Senate Appropriations Committee will vote next week to put just $1 million in that fund for this budget year. And of course, the House still has to get on board. 

You can check out all the stories we've done in our "related content" section below.