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.
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.