Eye On Boise

Senators hear testimony on firefighter risk bill

Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan tells the Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday that his city is supportive of legislation to recognize firefighters' disease and cancer risk as job-related; more than 30 states' workers compensation laws now include that presumption, but Idaho's doesn't. (Betsy Russell)
Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan tells the Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday that his city is supportive of legislation to recognize firefighters' disease and cancer risk as job-related; more than 30 states' workers compensation laws now include that presumption, but Idaho's doesn't. (Betsy Russell)

The Senate State Affairs Committee has heard stirring testimony this morning on SB 1336, proposed by the Professional Firefighters of Idaho and co-sponsored by committee Chairman Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, to have Idaho join the more than 30 states whose workers compensation laws acknowledge the cancer and disease risk in firefighters' work. Dr. Virginia Weaver of Johns Hopkins University told the panel that medical science recognizes the sharply increased cancer risk for firefighters. "Firefighting is not a common occupation," she said. "They have different risk factors."

Travis Woolford, a 47-year-old firefighter from Meridian who brought along his wife and young children, shared his story of being diagnosed with cancer at an unusually young age; other firefighters told the panel of the risks they face on the job; and Idaho fire chiefs said their cities support the legislation. Under current Idaho workers compensation law, the burden of proof required to show that firefighters' cancer or disease diagnoses are job-related is extremely difficult to achieve, because firefighters' exposure tends to be chronic, occur over long periods of time, and include exposure to unknown toxins and carcinogens that they breathe in the smoke while fighting fires at varying locations. Under the bill, SB 1336, such diseases would be presumed to be occupationally related unless a preponderance of evidence showed otherwise.

"We know that the hazard exists; we know that firefighters are getting sick because of our exposures," Mike Walker of Professional Firefighters of Idaho told the senators. "This gives us a fighting chance to prove our case in the Industrial Commission." The committee sent the bill to the Senate's amending order to make wording changes that have been worked out between firefighters and insurance firms.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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