YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Every firefighter understands their profession is dangerous, but the obvious danger of fighting fires isn’t the only thing that could harm them.
Elements they encounter every day can end up hurting them later on.
“Last year, we had 75 retirees that were still alive. We lost four of them and two of them were due to cancer. We have another one battling cancer this year,” said Warren firefighter Ken Horm.
Ironically, a law implemented just six weeks ago to ensure firefighters are protected from what they’re exposed to on the job is now in danger of being rolled back as part of Ohio’s new workers’ compensation budget.
Lawmakers met with firefighters from a number of departments on Monday in Austintown. They’re urging fire departments to attend a committee hearing in Columbus on Tuesday regarding House Bill 27, which would add new restrictions for people filing claims for cancer contracted on the job.
“This would be the first instance in the state’s history that we would create someone who is presumably at fault for suggesting that you didn’t wear your protective gear correctly,” Representative John Boccieri said.
Provisions to the law would require firefighters to prove they’re using protective equipment properly in order to receive compensation, even when experts believe that very same gear could be putting them at risk.
Chip Comstock, with the Western Reserve Fire District, said new requirements would mandate wearing a protective cloth hood under their helmets.
“By wearing that hood, if absorbs the carcinogens, exposing our necks and our heads to these carcinogens, increasing the rate of cancer.”
Another mandate would require firefighters to shower at the station after a fire, but Comstock said most volunteer fire departments don’t have showers.
Supporters of the measure argue it would save local communities money on their workers’ comp insurance.
Representative Tim Ginter — the area’s only Republican in the House — said it’s far too early to predict how the bill will appear in its final form.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that there be some sort of subsequent changes, whether that be a compromise or removal altogether.”
Union leaders argue the changes to the previous law aren’t needed.
“This hasn’t even been in effect for two months. Not one single claim has been filed yet in the state,” said Jeff Younkins, with the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters.
Ginter said he’s hearing concerns from firefighters about the measure, but won’t give an opinion until it reaches the House floor.