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Arizona firefighters want 10 more types of cancer added to workers’ comp coverage

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PHOENIX — A potential battle over firefighters, cancer and who is responsible for paying the treatment bills could be brewing in the Arizona Legislature.

In Arizona, if a firefighter develops one of seven types of cancer, state law assumes the disease was caused by his or her job. That means the firefighter is eligible for workers’ compensation.

The only cancers covered are brain, bladder, rectal/colon cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, and mesothelioma of the respiratory tract. Professional Firefighters of Arizona wants to add ten additional cancers to the list.

PFFAZ President Bryan Jeffries said firefighters get higher rates of cancer than usual because of increased exposure to toxic chemicals at fires and, therefore, want an expansion of Arizona’s presumptive-cancer law.

“In today’s modern society – in buildings that our people go into every day – everything is now made out of chemicals,” Jeffries told a state legislative committee last month. “When those chemicals burn, they put off noxious chemicals that [firefighters] are exposed to … The conditions inside fires are much hotter and spread much faster than ever before.”

Goodyear firefighter Gilbert Aguirre said he developed leukemia after 16 years on the job. He also said, without workers’ compensation, he and his family would be homeless.

“My medication’s $12,000 a month,” he said. “I have to come up with the co-pay for that. [My family’s] down to one vehicle, almost lost our house.”

Opponents also testified at last month’s hearing. Mark Kendall with Copper Point Mutual Insurance Company said adding cancers to the current list would make the cost of workers’ compensation insurance go up.

“Copper Point has accepted five cancer cases since 1998,” he said. “We have either paid out, or have reserves on, those in excess of $7 million. Each of these cases, on average, is over $1 million a case.”

Kendall said Copper Point handles worker’s compensation claims for many small or rural fire districts.

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