MISSOULA – Montana is one of only five states in the U.S. — and the only one in the West — where firefighters aren’t offered care and protection for cancer and other diseases they encounter while keeping us safe.
With the Senate is on board, the Montana State Fireman’s Association hopes lawmakers will take up the cause in the House.
Senate Bill 160 would provide worker’s compensation to firefighters who are increasingly at risk from hazardous materials they encounter every day.
“We’ve been working on this bill for 15-to-20 years, trying to get our firefighters covered from occupational disease be it cardiac, lung, 12-different types of cancers that are listed in this bill. It’s now the number one killer of firefighters nationwide, cancer is. It’s surpassed cardiac and trauma,” said Joel Gaertig with the Montana State Fireman’s Association.
“We’re going through the Work Comp program because we believe this is definitely a work-related injury,” he added.
At the same time, firefighters have been working to expand coverage, there’s mounting evidence of the often-fatal diseases they’re exposed to on the job.
In fact, when the Montana Fire Chiefs met in Missoula last year, establishing “best practices” after fire calls was one of the major topics for discussion.
While departments large and small are adapting tighter protocols to cut the risk of cancer, there are still many firefighters who’ve already been exposed or needed treatment.
And the point was driven home this winter by the untimely death of Great Falls firefighter Jason Baker, who campaigned valiantly for expanded coverage for two years after he was diagnosed with cancer.
“It speaks volumes to what we’re doing here in Helena. And we hope and pray that no one else has to go through this,” Gaertig. “It’s really too bad that that family had to go through that process without any support from the state.”
Members of the House Business and Labor Committee heard testimony on the bill on Friday morning. The Montana State Fireman’s Association is encouraging people to contact their representatives and urge support for the measure.