SC bill would make cancer an occupational disease for firefighters

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - South Carolina lawmakers are proposing a bill that would offer more protections for firefighters diagnosed with cancer.

Representatives Nancy Mace (R) of SC District 99 and Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D) of SC District 66 introduced the first South Carolina Firefighter Cancer Bill.

That bill would make cancer an occupational disease so firefighters could receive workers compensation.

According to data from the International Association of Fire Fighters, cancer is currently the number one killer for firefighters. That data also shows that cancer caused 70 percent of the line-of-duty deaths for career firefighters in 2016.

This is a high risk for firefighters, because they are constantly exposed to carcinogens.

“Every day throughout this state, there are firefighters going into smoke rooms, smoke hallways, houses, buildings,” said William Pesature, the vice president of the SC Professional Firefighters Association.

Pesature said that with this new bill, if a firefighter has been in service for 10 years and comes down with cancer, it’s going to presume that they got their cancer because of being a firefighter.

Research from the CDC shows that firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from it than the general population.

“We need help because a lot of firefighters are dying from it,” Hanahan Fire Chief Joseph Bowers said.

These risks are something firefighters aren’t necessarily aware of.

Kayla Brannon lost her husband Robby Brannon almost two years ago.

He was a firefighter for the Goose Creek Fire department when he was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic melanoma. Cancer is something Brannon says firemen don’t think about often when facing dangers of the job.

“These firemen think they’re invincible and nothing can happen to them. But in all reality every time they go on a call they risk their lives and saving somebody else,” said Brannon.

Firefighters and their families are asking everyone to contact their legislators and ask for their support. Fire chiefs from all over the state are planning on going to Columbia next week to meet with representatives about this bill.

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