Firefighters ask for more help battling cancer, but towns raise cost concerns

A bill would presume that a firefighter got cancer on the job unless a doctor proves it was a pre-existing condition, unless the firefighter smokes or they failed to use proper respiratory protection.

John Craven

Feb 7, 2023, 10:51 PM

Updated 493 days ago

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Firefighters packed a legislative hearing on Tuesday, urging state lawmakers to expand workers' compensation access for cancer diagnoses. But cities and towns warned that the change could raise property taxes across Connecticut.
In 2021, West Haven Fire Chief James O'Brien told News 12 he was seeing a troubling trend.
“We've had young firefighters – you know, 30 years old and so – with these cancers,” O’Brien said.
Now state lawmakers are taking a new look at making it easier to collect workers' compensation. A bill would presume that a firefighter got cancer on the job unless a doctor proves it was a pre-existing condition, unless the firefighter smokes or they failed to use proper respiratory protection.
"Going for radiation or chemo treatments – we often hear about firefighters doing that on a Monday and coming back to work on the line on a Wednesday,” Fairfield firefighter Caitlin Clarkson Pereira told the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees Committee.
But insurance carriers said firefighters can already collect workers' comp; they just have to prove they got cancer on the job.
"It is unnecessary and will cause claims unrelated to work to be accepted as work-related,” said Brooke Foley with the Insurance Association of Connecticut. “Employers and insurers may become liable for indemnity and medical benefits throughout the claimant's life, without the claimant having to prove their illness was related to their employment.”
Towns and cities also warned that taxpayers could foot the bill for a big spike in workers' comp claims.
“I believe would see a tremendous spike in our workers' comp insurance. That would affect property taxes,” said Carl Fortuna, Old Saybrook’s Republican first selectman. “It all comes down to property taxes when we have these type of mandates put on the towns.”
Firefighters told lawmakers that insurance companies rarely approve workers’ compensation claims for cancer.
They pushed for this change last year. Instead, lawmakers passed a compromise law that requires new safety rules for firefighters’ turnout gear. It also requires communities to contribute to the state’s chronically underfunded Firefighter Relief Program – but it’s only $10 per year for each firefighter, and contributions don’t begin until 2024.
Some lawmakers said it's not enough.
“This is such an emotional issue, because we ask firefighters to risk their lives to save our lives -- to save our property, to protect our property – and then we don't want to pay when they get sick,” said the committee co-chair, state Sen. Julie Kushner (D-Danbury).


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