Montana becomes 49th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters

Montana Governor to sign legislation today

With the passage of Senate Bill 160 Montana becomes the 48th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters.

The Firefighters Protection Act lists 12 presumptive diseases for which it would be easier for a firefighter to file a workers’ compensation claim if they served a certain number of years:

  • Bladder cancer, 12 years
  • Brain cancer, 10 years
  • Breast cancer, 5 years
  • Myocardial infarction, 10 years
  • colorectal cancer, 10 years
  • Esophageal cancer, 10 years
  • Kidney cancer, 15 years
  • Leukemia, 5 years
  • Mesothelioma or asbestosis, 10 years
  • Multiple myeloma, 15 years
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, 15 years
  • Lung cancer, 4 years

The bill applies to volunteers and local fire departments in Montana, but not to federal firefighters. It is unclear if it affects those employed by the state government.

The federal government has not established a presumptive disease program for their 15,000 wildland firefighters.

At a bill signing ceremony Thursday afternoon Governor Bullock will issue a proclamation ordering flags to be displayed at half-staff in honor of all Montana firefighters who have lost their lives from a job-related illness in the line of duty.

Governor Proclamation Montana firefighters


In a related story from April 12, “British Columbia may expand firefighter occupational disease coverage to wildland firefighters”

British Columbia may expand firefighter occupational disease coverage to wildland firefighters

Minister calls firefighting dangerous, says it can have severe impacts to physical and mental health

Massachusetts firefighters British Columbia
Firefighters from Massachusetts board an aircraft on the way to the Elephant Hill Fire near Kamloops, British Columbia. Photo by Mass. Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The United States government does not have a presumptive disease policy for their 15,000 federal wildland firefighters, but British Columbia is seeking to expand their program.

From The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:


Firefighters who have battled British Columbia wildfires, fire investigators, and fire crews working for Indigenous groups will be eligible for greater access to job-related health compensation under legislation introduced Thursday.

Labour Minister Harry Bains tabled amendments to the Workers Compensation Act that extends occupational disease and mental health benefits to more people who work around fires.

The proposed changes will expand cancer, heart disease and mental health disorder presumptions to include the three other job categories, because Bains says those workers are often involved in the traumatic issues related to fires.

Presumptive illnesses faced by firefighters are recognized under the act as conditions caused by the nature of the work, rather than having firefighters prove their issue is job related to receive supports and benefits.

Bains says the government expanded the presumptive job-related conditions last year to include mental-health disorders for police officers, paramedics, sheriffs, correctional officers and most urban firefighters. He says firefighting is dangerous work that can have serious impacts on an individual’s physical and mental health.

“They will enjoy the same coverage as the other firefighters — the first responders — receive as part of giving them certain cancer protections, heart disease and injuries and mental health,” Bains said during a news conference after the legislation was introduced.

“These steps are very necessary to ensure our workplaces are the safest in the country.”

Establishment of firefighter cancer registry is progressing

The next step is to collect input from firefighters and stakeholders on an approach to the Registry including potential enrollment methods

A firefighter works a blaze in Northern California. Photo courtesy CAL FIRE.
A firefighter works a blaze in Northern California during the fires in Wine Country in 2017. Photo courtesy of CAL FIRE.

(UPDATED at 10 a.m. MDT March 28, 2019)

The Request for Information about the new National Firefighter Registry described below was published today. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an agency within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is requesting input about three possible enrollment strategies. Specifically, NIOSH is asking for input on how to maximize participation for the Registry. The comment period will close on May 28th, 2019.

The process for leaving a comment is convoluted. They ask you to click on this link and then you have to search for the appropriate issue. I searched for “National Firefighter Registry” which brought up 208 results. When I checked today it was the first one.

When found, you have to click in the search results on “Comment Now”(over on the right)  Maybe THIS will take you directly to the comment form.

Keep in mind that any information (e.g., personal or contact) you provide on the comment form may be publicly disclosed and searchable on the Internet and in a paper docket. But you don’t have to leave your name or email address.


(Originally published at 2:41 p.m. MDT March 27, 2019)

In April, 2017 a bill was introduced in Congress that would establish a registry to track the occurrence of cancer among firefighters. A version of the bill was finally signed into law on July 7, 2018. Now, eight months later it appears that the creation of the registry is some distance from becoming a reality, but we can report some progress.

The legislation called it a Firefighter Cancer Registry, but it appears that the name has changed to National Firefighter Registry — a vague term which does not provide a clue about the purpose.

Kenny Fent is the Team Lead for what will become the National Firefighter Registry Program. Mr. Fent is a Research Industrial Hygienist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He told us that soon the agency will post a Request for Information (RFI) to the Federal Register regarding the Registry. During a 60-day period they will seek input on an approach to the Registry including potential enrollment methods. All stakeholders, including firefighters, will be encouraged to review the document and respond with comments.

NIOSH-CDC logoOnce the Registry design is finalized, CDC/NIOSH will begin enrollment. Where possible, CDC/NIOSH will collect work history and exposure records to explore the relationship between exposures and cancer. They will also link with state cancer registries to confirm diagnoses. Findings will be shared through scientific publications and communications to stakeholders and the public.

Previous studies, including a study completed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in 2014, have highlighted firefighters’ increased risk for certain cancers compared to the general population. However, few previous studies have collected data about wildland firefighters, volunteer firefighters, or sufficient numbers of female and minority firefighters in order to draw conclusions regarding their risk of cancer.

In one study that collected data from wildland firefighters in the field, a group of researchers concluded that firefighters’ exposure to smoke can increase the risk of mortality from lung cancer, ischemic heart disease, and cardiovascular disease by 22 to 39 percent. The project only looked at the wildland fire environment, and was not a long term study of firefighters’ health.

The ultimate goal of the Registry is to better understand the link between workplace exposures and cancer among firefighters. The Registry will include all U.S. firefighters, not just those with a cancer diagnosis. The Registry also has the potential to provide a better understanding of cancer risk among subgroups such as women, minorities, and volunteers, and among sub-specialties of the fire service like instructors, wildland firefighters, and arson investigators.

From the Registry information, CDC/NIOSH will estimate an overall rate of cancer for firefighters. They might find certain groups of firefighters are at a higher risk of cancer than others based on level of exposure, geography, gender, or other factors. They may also find that certain protective measures are associated with a reduced risk for cancer, which could provide additional evidence and support for specific control interventions.

The Registry will be completely voluntary, and no one can force a person to join.

All active and retired as well as volunteer, paid-on-call, and career firefighters will be encouraged to join the Registry, regardless of their current health status.

CDC/NIOSH promises that they will always maintain participants’ privacy and will never share personal information with an outside organization including fire departments, unions, or other researchers without permission of the individual.

Resources for learning about effects of exposure to wildland fire smoke

wildland fire smoke exposure
Cover of USFS publication.

Last week the Northern Rockies Fire Science Network conducted a live webinar titled,  “Smoke Exposure Health Effects and Mitigations for Wildland Fire Personnel: Current Research and Recommendations.” The one-hour presentation was very informative and heavily emphasized how smoke from burning vegetation can be hazardous to your health, especially for firefighters. Below is the recorded version, and following that is a list of resources identified in the webinar that provide more information about the effects of wildland fire smoke. I suggest that firefighters make the video a part of their annual refresher training.

We have written dozens of times about smoke and the research efforts directed toward evaluating the effects on humans. Articles that describe the effects are all tagged “smoke & health” on Wildfire Today. At this writing there are 17 of them. This article is the 18th.

In addition to those resources, here are others that were listed in last week’s webinar. Where possible, we downloaded them to the Wildfire Today web site in order to preserve the documents.

Couples workshop for firefighter families

This is a very interesting concept — a couples workshop (or therapy or counseling?) for firefighter families. Daycare provided.

Firefighters have a lot of stress to deal with, but so do their spouses.

We have no more information about this than what is available in the tweet, and therefore can’t endorse it. But, maybe this concept will be useful and if so, could spread like wildfire. (sorry)

The firefighting agencies and departments should provide this service. It is in their best interests to have healthy employees that can be depended on who can serve out their full careers in spite of stress and difficulties. It could even have a positive effect on the astronomically high suicide rate among firefighters. Arguably, the investment might even save departments money in the long term.

This period during the shutdown of 40 percent of the government would be a good time for something like this. It makes the scheduling easier and could address the additional stress of the layoff and possible financial problems.

We also should remember that not all firefighters are part of a couple.

Prince Harry spoke about mental health to farmers, but it could have been firefighters

Prince Harry has opened up to farmers about his own mental health struggles. “Asking for help was one of the best decisions that I ever made.”

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. From ABC News video.

While on a trip to Australia Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stopped to talk with farmers who are suffering through a severe drought which has led to a cascading series of hardships. In drawing upon his own experience with depression he implored them to find someone to talk to.

His words would have been very appropriate before an audience of wildland firefighters — from January 1, 2015 through November 1, 2017 at least 68 took their own lives.

If you substitute “firefighter” for “farmer” in Prince Harry’s address, it would still be very appropriate.

Help is available for those feeling really depressed or suicidal.