Montana legislature rejects firefighter health bill

One Senator who opposed it said “it is something they’re going into with their eyes wide open”.

smoke firefighter

Above: A firefighter works in smoke on the Water Tower Fire in South Dakota, March 16, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

On Wednesday a Montana legislative committee voted down a bill that would have provided benefits for firefighters who developed a lung disease on the job. Republican Mark Noland of Bigfork said firefighters “know what they’re doing”, and:

That is their profession, that is what they chose, and we do not want to, you know, slight them in any way, shape or form, but it is something they’re going into with their eyes wide open.

That is asinine, ridiculous, reprehensible, and irresponsible.

Rep. Mark Noland
Rep. Mark Noland of Bigfork, MT.

He is assuming that when firefighters began their careers they knew there was a good chance they would damage their lungs. If that is common knowledge now, or was 20 years ago when the firefighter signed up, why haven’t the employers already established coverage for presumptive diseases? There is a great deal we do not know about the effects of breathing contaminated air on structure, vehicle, and wildland fires.

Many agencies and government bodies have already established a list of presumptive diseases that will enable health coverage for firefighters. For example the British Columbia government recognizes at least nine “presumptive cancers” among firefighters, including leukemia, testicular cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, bladder cancer, ureter cancer, colorectal cancer, and non-Hodgkins’s lymphoma.

The Montana legislation would have only covered one of these nine illnesses.

According to the Associated Press, Gov. Steve Bullock noted that 46 other states already have presumptive illness protections for firefighters.

When a person enlists in the military and they come home injured or permanently disabled, should we ignore them, saying they knew what they were getting into? Their “eyes were wide open”? How is treating firefighters injured on the job different? One could argue that they are both defending and protecting our homeland; one of them actually IN our homeland while the other may have been on the other side of the world.

Only one Republican on the House committee voted for the measure. Apparently in Montana treating firefighters injured on the job is a partisan issue.

The bill was previously passed by the Senate on a 33-14 vote. It is still possible that the bill could be brought up again by the House. If you want to follow the legislation, the text is HERE and you can track the progress HERE.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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15 thoughts on “Montana legislature rejects firefighter health bill”

  1. Most firefighters are young and vigorous when they start out. Cancer or heart failure 20+ years down the road isn’t exactly on their radar.

    And yes, some of us do know what we’re getting into. But somebody has to do the job, regardless. Somebody has to be willing to run into a cloud of smoke to protect life and property.

    Did Montana legislators forget that the forests near Libby and Troy are contaminated with asbestos, which we have positively linked with lung diseases? Who do they think will be going into that area to put out any fire that starts in that area?

    I sincerely hope this is Noland’s last term as a politician, because he clearly does not give a s*** about us.

    1. I hope his property needs firefighters sometime and no one shows up. That is what he deserves for such uncaring comments and lack of support for firefighters. Pathetic!!

  2. Sadly Montana is in the dark ages still when it comes to firefighter health and safety issues. Our legislative representatives truly are an embarrassment on these sort of issues. I am blessed that I finished my 35 year professional firefighting career in CA before returning home to MT. I am blessed with 100% PCC coverage because I worked as a firefighter In CA. Yes Bill the reading is assine. Then again so are a lot of politicians

    1. They are ages behind in fire suppression tactics and knowledge. For some Ivan say not for a lack of trying. Good resources are limited in most areas.

      CDF (yes old school) and the volunteers spoiled us. Still shouldn’t we be able expect a minimum standard? As the population grows so does the urban interface.

      I would hope that there is still a workers comp at minimum for our emergency response people.

      Assuming this is only DNRC people.

  3. I would like to know what this legislator would say as a wildfire is approaching his land if there were no firefighters due to the just now surfacing inherent risks? When will our elected officials they were put into these positions to represent the best interests of their constituencies, not to perpetuate a political agenda and exhibit some COMMON SENSE!

  4. I agree. Why are we, as firefighters, entitled to health care? Why should the government provide something that the private sector provides? I see less government involvement as a good thing. Let me pay for it if I see fit, as opposed to making me pay me for it indirectly through increased taxes.

    1. Do you know anyone who has undergone cancer treatment? It is not unheard of to pay $100,000 a year. If you are lucky, you would have to pay that bill at least a few times. Remember, with out insurance industry regulations they can always make your premiums too expensive to afford.

    2. Using your logic, we should abolish the Veteran’s Administration too. Soldiers/Sailors/Airmen can get private insurance, right? And probably really no need for Workman’s Comp programs, which is what this Bill was proposing? Let the workers out there cover themselves.
      I guess on this issue, BL, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

      1. Hey Emmett-yes, I believe they should. Stuff isn’t free. If it comes out of taxpayer money, we still pay for it anyways. I say give me the choice. If I don’t want, use, or benefit from insurance (or any gov program), I shouldn’t have to pay for it through taxes. In the end, more of my check is going in my wallet, and not towards the myriad of government programs I don’t use. Just my 2 cents. And to anonymous, a good friend died of cancer a couple years ago. I know it’s expensive. Why would they make the premiums too expensive to afford? If no one could afford it, wouldn’t it drive them out of business until they lowered their prices?

    3. Because you might be young now and don’t think you will ever be sick so you don’t see the need. But when your 62 (i.e. too young for Medicare) and your circumstances have changed and you are diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer….who are you going to come crying to….or are you going to believe trumpcare will take care of you?

    4. Why? Because the government is an employer, and health care coverage is a benefit that goes with good jobs. Where there are risks associated with a job it makes sense for that coverage to follow.

  5. “That is their profession, that is what they chose, and we do not want to, you know, slight them in any way, shape or form, but it is something they’re going into with their eyes wide open.”
    Too late. You already slighted them in way, shape, and form.

  6. This won’t be the first time a politician puts his foot in his mouth….and he will probably run for re election again.

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