COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Firefighters packed the statehouse Wednesday trying to persuade lawmakers to pass a bill that would recognize cancer as a work related illness.
“It’s that simple. We’re not asking for anything extra we are just asking for our employers to cover the sickness and the illness that we have obtained thru the course of our employment,” said Doug Stern. He’s the Director of Communications & Public Relations for the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters. He says he has watched too many friends and their families struggle after being diagnosed with cancer and something needs to be done.
One lawmaker in particular asked the fire fighters how they expect the bill to be funded. “One billion dollar unfunded mandate in the state of Ohio. The question becomes how are local governments in your opinion going to deal with that type of increase cost?” asked (r) house representative Derek Merrin.
Firefighters responded by saying it’s the cost of doing business. “It’s unfortunate that some people are balking at the cost. There is a cost to protect fire fighters for the cancer they get on the job. Just like there is a cost to cover firefighters that are injured on the job from burns or broken legs,” said stern.
House Insurance Committee Chairperson, Tom Brinkman Jr. agreed the the number of firefighters getting sick on the job is startling. He said the legislature needs to figure out where to get the funds to make it sustainable. “They’ve had 53 Columbus firemen that have been diagnosed with cancer this year. That’s a lot. That’s 3.5 percent of the workforce. 120 Are being treated. It’s a big number. Regardless of who is going to pay for it, we should be ready to pay for it.” said Brinkman.
With 37 other states already passing similar legislation, firefighters are urging law makers in Ohio to do the same thing..and protect them as they put their lives on the line.
“Our hope is that Ohio is the next state and not the last state to get firefighter presumptive coverage,” said stern.
One firefighter we talked to hopes that something passes before it’s too late.
“The things that most people take for granted are just really special,” said firefighter Mark Rine.
He is 35 years old, has five children, and is currently battling stage four melanoma. The doctors say he’s terminal.
“Everyday is a great reminder that you are still here. But also everyday is a reminder that you’re one step closer to potentially not being here,” Rine said.
He’s one of 126 firefighters in the City of Columbus alone being treated for cancer.