Lawmakers, fire officials and the union leaders rallied in Harrisburg Monday to urge Governor Ed Rendell to sign legislation that would make it easier for firefighters to qualify for workers' compensation if they develop cancer during their time on the job. The Senate okayed the measure on a 45-4 vote and the House passed it unanimously on their last voting day of this legislative session.
The measure would extend workers' compensation to firefighters who are stricken with cancer as a result of being exposed to carcinogens in the line of duty. State Representative Robert Matzie, who represents parts of Allegheny and Beaver Counties, says the bill just makes sense....
"Because when they're busing down a door, they don't know what's going to be on the other side relative to the fire....what's in the walls, what's in the ceiling."
32 other states already have a similar law on the books.
The bill's co-sponsor Representative Dom Costa of Pittsburgh says firefighters, both paid and volunteer, put their lives on the line for our safety. "It is important that we as a state do all that we can to help them when they suffer as a result of doing their duty."
The governor has until November 27 to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Under the legislation:
**Only firefighters with four or more years of continuous service would be eligible to apply for workers' compensation;
**Only cancers caused by direct exposure to known carcinogens would be considered for workers' compensation
**To qualify, firefighters would have to successfully pass a physical exam, which did not reveal any evidence of cancer, either before making an occupational disease claim or before beginning work as a firefighter.
**The presumption of cancer as an occupational disease may be rebutted by a preponderance of evidence showing a firefighter was directly exposed to a known carcinogen outside of firefighting, including tobacco use.
**Coverage for volunteers would be limited only to those volunteer companies that participate in the state's Fire Information Reporting System.
**Claims must be made within 11.5 years after the last date of employment as a firefighter.