Bill would provide workers’ comp to firefighters with certain cancers

A key House committee passed legislation Wednesday that would provide workers’ compensation to some firefighters with certain cancers.

House Bill 216 would grant workers' compensation benefits to firefighters who have been diagnosed with fire service-related cancers. Firefighters applying for the benefit would have to demonstrate exposure to a known carcinogen as a result of their occupation.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville said counties that do not already offer workers' compensation benefits to volunteers, such as firefighters, wouldn't have to offer the coverage.

Dennis Thayer, chairman of the Georgia Firefighters Cancer Coalition, said the committee’s decision to pass the bill is a long-awaited victory for firefighters in Georgia. He attributed firefighter carcinogen exposure to newer materials used in the construction of homes, such as synthetic fibers and plastic.

“We are taking great steps as an industry to prevent that exposure,” said Thayer. “We are finding that a lot of guys are getting cancer at ages 30 or 35. It’s clearly related back to the fire service.”

Thayer and his organization hope the bill will ease the financial burden cancer puts on firefighters. He said about two-thirds of Georgia firefighters are volunteers, so workers’ compensation would bring a welcome relief to them and their families.