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Arizona Senate committee aims to minimize cancer in fire service

Glendale Fire Capt. Kevin Thompson addresses an ad hoc state Senate committee dealing with cancer among first responders on Thursday, Oct. 17, in Phoenix. (KTAR News Photo/Ali Vetnar)

PHOENIX — Firefighters and advocates from across Arizona gathered Thursday for the first meeting of a state Senate ad hoc committee tasked with tackling the issue of cancer among first responders.

“My goal is to help any firefighter with cancer not have to jump through the bureaucratic hoops they currently are facing,” said Sen. Paul Boyer, who led the meeting. “Secondly, addressing what can we do to prevent firefighters from getting cancer in the future.”

In addition to several senators, the committee includes firefighters, officials who handle workers’ compensation claims and medical professionals who specialize in cancer treatment.

During the first meeting, the University of Arizona’s Dr. Jeff Burgess gave a presentation on his nearly 20 years of studying cancer in the fire service.

Glendale Fire Capt. Kevin Thompson then spoke just days after a stem cell collection that will be used in a transplant he is scheduled to receive next week. Thompson’s stem cell transplant to treat his multiple myeloma had been on hold for months while he fought for benefits.

He shared his story of occupational cancer and denial of workers’ compensation.

Holding back emotions, he addressed individuals who watched his denial for workers’ compensation happen.

“I’m one of the lucky ones to be standing here,” he said. “There were nine of us who had filed claims under the law. That number has been reduced because my brother Austin Peck passed away without his benefits under the law after he served his community for 10 years.”

Boyer told KTAR News 92.3 FM he hopes the committee will hold four or five meetings. The next meeting, which hasn’t yet been scheduled, will focus on cancer prevention and screenings.

Boyer said he believes current statutes should be changed, but he didn’t think new legislation would necessarily come out of the committee.

However, he did toss out the idea of creating a statewide fund to help pay for firefighters’ cancer treatment.

“I’m looking to get dollars for cities so any time one of their firefighters gets cancer on the job they can pull from it to offset some of their city’s costs,” he said.

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