YORK—Firefighters across the state could soon have an extra layer of protection. New legislation is designed to offer Workman's Compensation benefits to longtime firefighters who develop cancer. The bill officially makes cancer an occupational disease for firefighters.
"There's cyanide that's off-gased when combustibles burn, there's asbestos in the older buildings here in the city especially," says Chief Steven Buffington, with the York City Fire Department.
Those chemicals are known to cause cancer. Chief Buffington knows that first hand, his father, James, was a firefighter for 26-years and died of lung cancer.
"He started his career in the late 1950's before they even wore breathing apparatus, so he was definitely exposed to a lot of things that today our guys are protected from," Chief Buffington says.
However, the protection only goes so far, soot and chemicals can still penetrate the skin and linger in clothing. In fact, because turnout gear, boots and helmets can hold carcinogens, firefighters in York are not allowed to wear any of it into the kitchen or living quarters. It must be left in the Engine Room so the chemicals won't be spread around even more.
"There is no greater tragedy that we could have than a firefighter that develops cancer post retirement," says Republican Representative Frank Farry of Bucks County.
Rep. Farry is introducing House Bill 797, which would provide Worker's Compensation for firefighters with at least four years of firefighting service, who develop cancer. The firefighters must have had a clean physical exam at the beginning of their firefighting duties.
Chief Buffington says, "Overall our folks are pleased to see that this bill is moving forward."
The bill has been passed by the State House and Senate and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Corbett.