(May 3) – A bill by Reps. Tony Exum Sr. and Brittany Pettersen to allow fire departments to give firefighters the opportunity to participate in a voluntary cancer benefits program was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper this afternoon.
“In my career, I saw a number of my fellow firefighters face this devastating disease that’s so expensive to treat,” said Rep. Exum, a former battalion chief and firefighter in Colorado Springs for over 35 years. “This is really good legislation to support our firefighters who are working hard to protect our communities.”
“My brother’s a firefighter and I can’t imagine if he found himself in a position where he had cancer and was forced to spend months or even years battling with a complicated worker’s comp system,” said Rep. Pettersen. “This bill streamlines the process for firefighters to make sure we’re taking care of our first responders.”
Firefighters are at increased risk of certain types of cancer as a result of exposure to hazardous materials.
Under SB17-214, participants would be able to make contributions to a health trust designed to assist firefighters diagnosed with cancer or their surviving family members, with payments of up to $225,000 based on the category and stage of the cancer. A law passed in 2007 established certain types of cancer as an occupational diseases for firefighters, but accessing benefits through the workers compensation system has proven to be very complicated for firefighters. This bill provides a practical alternative to the current system for firefighters to deal with the costs of cancer treatment.
Reps. Exum and Pettersen are also sponsoring HB17-1278, which is still making its way through the legislature and continues the Local Firefighter Safety and Diseases Prevention Fund, a merit-based grant fund managed by the Division of Fire Prevention and Control that was created by law in 2014. The fund awards need-based grants for equipment and training designed to increase firefighter safety and prevent occupational diseases.