New task force looks to help Connecticut firefighters with cancer

Firefighters risk their lives on calls, but their leading cause of death is actually cancer. A new task is looking at making it easier for them to collect workers' compensation, but critics worry about the price tag.

News 12 Staff

Dec 10, 2021, 1:17 AM

Updated 890 days ago

Share:

Firefighters risk their lives on calls, but CDC statistics show their leading cause of death is actually cancer. A new task is looking at making it easier for them to collect workers' compensation, but critics worry about the price tag.
The issue hits home in West Haven, where a firefighter died of stomach cancer in 2015.
“We lost Ransford Smith – 'Smitty,’” says West Haven Fire Chief James O’Brien. “It was a very aggressive cancer."
He believes modern building materials are contributing to the spike.
"Years ago, it was mostly cotton and wood fabrics,” says O’Brien. “Now we have all these synthetics and plastics.”
On Tuesday, a new task force began looking at solutions. But they’re not always popular. State lawmakers have repeatedly rejected expanding workers’ comp. Cities and towns argue that it’s too expensive, and insurance experts warn the change could make workers’ comp coverage hard to obtain.
"It costs in California comp, 48 cents to develop a dollar of benefit,” Bill Adamson of 7710 Insurance told the panel. “The median across the country in that study says it costs 25 cents to provide a dollar benefit in the comp world."
Instead of expanding workers’ comp, Connecticut created a Firefighters Cancer Relief Fund in 2016. It replaces at least some of a patient's earnings -- up to the average weekly state salary – for as long as two years. Firefighters will become eligible in February 2022.
But the cancer fund has no dedicated revenue stream. State lawmakers have to budget money each year. Right now, the fund only has $800,000. And right now, a form isn't even available yet to apply for cancer benefits.
West Haven firefighters aren't waiting for action from Hartford. They're already taking steps to protect themselves.
Crews now disinfect turnout gear right away, including face masks and protective hoods.
"We would wear these contaminated for hours at a time in the past,” says O’Brien.
Many Connecticut fire departments also keep two sets of gear for each firefighter.
O’Brien believes if fire departments can do more to prevent cancer, lawmakers are more likely to pay for wages when members do get sick.
"The cost is the cost, but I think at the end of the day, protecting the public servants is important,” he says.


More from News 12