Arizona firefighters plead with lawmakers to extend protections for first responders

Apr 28, 2017, 7:04 PM | Updated: 8:43 pm
(Beatriz Valenzuela/The Sun via AP)...
(Beatriz Valenzuela/The Sun via AP)
(Beatriz Valenzuela/The Sun via AP)
LISTEN: Gilbert Aguirre & Stephen Gilman, Goodyear Firefighters

PHOENIX — Firefighters are pleading with members of the Arizona Legislature to vote on a series of bills that would extend protections for first responders.

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.

But H.B. 2161 and 2410 would extend workers’ compensation for first responders who are diagnosed with various work-related diseases and injuries.

The bills were introduced to the Arizona House earlier this year and were sent to the Senate in February.

They have been heard by two Senate committees and the majority and minority caucuses, but Senate President Steve Yarbrough has not brought the bills to the floor for a vote.

Bryan Jeffries, the president of Professional Firefighters of Arizona, told KTAR’s Mac and Gaydos that Arizona firefighters are fighting an “epidemic” while the Legislature sits “on its hands.”

“Over the past 15 years, cancer rates amongst firefighters have been skyrocketing,” Jeffries said.

“If you think about it, everything around you — in history, they were all made of wood or natural textiles,” he added. “Today, everything is made of synthetics. When those chemicals burn, they put out chemicals that absorbs through our skin, through our helmets, and it’s causing cancer rates to go through the roof.”

While some firefighters die on the job, Jeffries said, “many firefighters die with their boots off, in hospital beds with their families around, while suffering from horrible diseases from [chemical] exposure.”

“We know the cause and effect of what chemicals do to these guys,” Jeffries said.

Jeffries said his fellow firefighter friends have been repeatedly denied for health care coverage and cannot get treated for diseases and illnesses caught while on the job.

“Minutes are clicking away,” Jeffries said. “We’re just asking for our day. Let [the] Legislators make the decision, but my God, just put it to the floor for a vote. They’ve been sitting on it for weeks now.”

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Arizona firefighters plead with lawmakers to extend protections for first responders