Editorial: Montana legislature fails to pass firefighter health bill

The following editorial was written by Dick Mangan.

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As someone who has been involved in wildland fire since the mid-1960s, and who is currently on the Missoula Rural Fire Board of Trustees, I’m really disgusted with the Republicans on the House Business and Labor Committee who voted to “table” the vote on SB 72 which would give Workers Comp coverage to firefighters who develop job-related cancer. For those of you unfamiliar with legislative terms, to “table” a Bill can be translated into “I don’t have the intestinal fortitude (Guts) to actually vote up or down on this issue, so I’ll vote to do nothing”.

Several of these Legislators offered meaningless “feel good” comments about firefighters, like Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby who said “I take my hat off to firefighters” and Bigfork Rep Mark Noland who called firefighters “courageous….. so grateful for your service.” But then Noland went on to say “but they do know. They do enter this with their eyes open. This is what they chose.”

So, soldiers and police officers die in the line of duty, and that’s OK too? They know the risks, and make the choice, just like firefighters. Maybe we should extend that logic to State Legislators: JFK, RFK, George Wallace, Ronald Reagan and Gabby Giffords were politicians killed and/or wounded doing their jobs. So, if a Montana legislator should suffer a similar fate, should we just tell them and their families that “they entered with their eyes open”?

I must pause this blast to give credit to Republican Senator Pat Connell of Hamilton who introduced the Bill in the Senate (where it passed) and to Rep Sue Vinton of Billings, the only Republican House member to vote in its favor.

Firefighters, structural and wildland, volunteer and paid, frequently put their lives on the line to protect lives and property. Too bad some of our State Legislators can’t walk a mile in their fire boots.

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Dick Mangan retired from the U.S. Forest Service Technology & Development Center in Missoula, Montana in 2000 with more than 30 years wildfire experience. He is a past President of the International Association of Wildland Fire.

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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4 thoughts on “Editorial: Montana legislature fails to pass firefighter health bill”

  1. Yes Sir! I began my career in `00 and never heard a word about exposure risks until I think `06 and then it was a debate about smoking cigarettes in the rigs vs wildfire smoke. I am happy to see it coming to surface, on the other piseed that people knew and said nothing to us kids. All that was said is come back alive, through experience on the job and off I now know the risks that we all take to our health and there is zero credit to the government for that. Like said, asinine and irresponsible, we step out to that risk without benefits, being paid less than average and say yes sir! All who sign up for the first time need at the very least be made aware of the inherent risks. Period. And those of us who continue to provide service for minimal pay hardships to our families and loved ones should at least get a tip of the hat and whatever screening is needed to be sure we are safe. Could go on and on about this but just think in the wui what are you breathing into your body? Mr. And Misses Ms ma`am whoever politicians I as I’m sure all of us current and former ff’so challenge ya`ll strap on some boots come breath our air for a day! Bet you will be seeing your primary care physician provided by your fancy insurance real quick! Fire them all I say, smokey bear for 2018!

  2. A City of Great Falls MT Firefighter in his early 40’s is hospitalized and undergoing treatment for stage 4 lung cancer. In the Billings (MT) Gazette yesterday there was an obit for a retired member of the Billings Fire Department. He was 67. He is the third retiree from the Billings Fire Department to die at age 67 in the last 18 months.

    Most paid departments in Montana banned smoking as a condition of employment 30 years ago.
    The presumptive health bill has been in the legislature the past 8 sessions.

  3. The bill has been “tabled” by the committee but that does not mean it has to die again this session. The committee can chose to bring it back and since it passed the state Senate convincingly already, it wouldn’t take much more to get it all passed. I’d encourage any Montanans to call the Legislature this next week at their convenient phone line at 406-444-4800 (M-F) and ask to have your support of SB 72 be passed to the House Business and Labor Committee along with your local representative. You can also email your support at: http://leg.mt.gov/css/Sessions/65th/legwebmessage.asp
    I thank Dick for keeping up on important issues.

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