Cancer Can Be a Work-Related Injury for Firefighters in Massachusetts

Firefighter exposed to toxic smoke

The Massachusetts Senate approved a firefighter cancer bill that will enable firefighters and other state workers, such as police officers who are regularly exposed to dangerous fire related conditions, to treat cancer as a work related/line of duty injury. This change offers increased protections to first responders who put their lives at risk for the safety and security of our society. Before this bill, first responders suffering from cancer related illnesses would utilize their sick time while treating for cancer. After the finite amount of sick leave ends, payroll and healthcare benefits cease, making an already difficult financial, physical, and emotional battle all the more challenging.

“We accept the sacrifice of our job as a part of our calling, but when we get diagnosed with cancer, and we run out of sick leave, and we go off the payroll, and we lose our healthcare that is just wrong,” said Ed Kelly of the International Association of Firefighters. Firefighters, and other first responders, especially in Massachusetts have an increased risk of being exposed to carcinogenic chemicals, more so than any other state. Massachusetts mandates flame-retardants in their fire code in hopes of preventing out of control fires and deaths attributed to fires. Boston had one of the lowest national rates of firefighters killed in action, which influenced Massachusetts decision to keep flame retardants a part of the fire code. (Boston Magazine)

Boston became one of the largest markets in the country for flame retardant products. According to a member survey from the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association 40 percent of all furniture pretreated with flame-retardants ended up in Boston. So while actual fire related fatalities were some of the lowest in the nation, the irony was it was possible these fire-retardant mandates were maybe aiding in creating toxic environments that lead to increased exposure to known carcinogens for Massachusetts firefighters.

Cancer has become a work related danger working as a Firefighter today. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health observed 30,000 firefighter medical records from several cities and found firefighters were at notably higher risks for a variety of cancers. In Massachusetts, in particular, it was observed that firefighters from 1987-2013 were at a greater risk for colon and brain cancers, more so than non-firefighters.

More than 300 active firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer in the last two years. One such firefighter was the South Shore’s own Tony Colarusso, a Plymouth firefighter who died from cancer in 2015 at the age of 39.  The bill is named after the firefighter; his mother said he was adamant in wanting to make sure no other first responder would have to go through what he did.

While this is an important victory for protecting the health of first responders in active duty, there are caveats to the bill, including proving the specific type of cancer was in fact caused by the line of work, and not through life style habits outside of work or other extenuating circumstances. With caveats such as these it’s essential to have an experienced attorney aid you in reviewing the specifics of your case.

If you or a loved one is suffering from cancer that you believe is the result of being an active duty first responder you may have options for obtaining compensation. Plymouth County personal injury and workers compensation law attorney Michael S. Mehrmann has spent many years helping people from across Plymouth County, including in Kingston, Plymouth, Marshfield, Hanson, Carver, Pembroke, and Duxbury, deal with their legal needs. To find out more about how we can assist you, call (781) 585-3911 or contact us online.