A local news station in Georgia has uncovered an alarming and disappointing fact about metro Atlanta fire departments. Sadly, local fire departments throughout the city do not have policies in place to limit exposure to hazardous chemicals, thereby increasing firefighters’ risk of developing cancer. As a result, firefighters in the Atlanta and surrounding areas rarely receive workers’ compensation benefits.
According to a study performed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), firefighters are at an increased risk of developing particular cancers. While in the line of duty, or course of their employment, firefighters are frequently exposed to carcinogens produced by various materials when they are burned.
Because it is usually too difficult for medical experts to conclude that an individual’s exposure to hazardous material caused a patient’s cancer, firefighters are routinely denied workers’ compensation benefits, or mistakenly never apply for them.
Presently, 33 states have cancer presumption laws that make it easy for injured firefighters to receive benefits. These laws presume that a firefighter who is diagnosed with cancer contracted it in the course of their employment. The presumption then opens the door for the injured worker to begin receiving medical treatment and workers’ compensation benefits.
State Sen. Curt Thompson has introduced similar cancer presumption laws in Georgia in recent years, but has been met with fierce opposition by former Gov. Sonny Perdue, among others.
We can only hope that the brave men and women of our state fire department’s will soon have the legal support and coverage they need so that they can continue serving our communities as the heroes that they are.