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Akron leaders support firefighter cancer bill

Posted: 7:26 PM, Mar 08, 2016
Updated: 2016-03-09 00:26:00Z

Akron's city council members are the latest Ohio leaders to voice their support for legislation aimed at helping firefighters battling cancer.

The council unanimously passed a resolution urging Ohio lawmakers to vote for a presumptive cancer law  for firefighters during its meeting Monday night.

WATCH THE MEETING HERE

Ward 6 Councilman Bob Hoch introduced the resolution after learning an unusually high number of firefighters in the Akron area were diagnosed with cancer. Hoch has two sons who are members of Akron's fire department.

Two weeks ago, Willowick Mayor Richard Bonde sent a letter to Ohio Sen. John Eklund (R) asking him to support SB 27.

In the letter, Bonde, who also acts as Willowick's safety director, wrote he was "convinced those men and women protecting us as firefighters need immediate health assistance." 

A similar bill for firefighters (HB 292) was introduced in Ohio's House of Representatives last year.

How Ohio fails firefighters

During an exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation, NewsChannel 5 Investigators found Ohio is one of just 16 states without a law recognizing the link between fighting fires and cancer in spite of growing scientific evidence showing fighting fires increases the risk for several types of cancer.

“I feel almost embarrassed as the state of Ohio,” said Ohio Senator Tom Patton (R-District 24) who introduced SB 27 last year.

The bill would allow firefighters to quickly qualify for workers' compensation benefits if they are diagnosed with a cancer proven to be linked to their occupation.

The benefits include comprehensive medical coverage, medical leave, and survivor benefits for firefighters' dependents.

Patton has introduced similar legislation three times. Each of the bills failed.

"There's no other disabling injury that someone in Ohio will receive while working that we don’t take care of,” said Patton.

The cancer connection

The most significant study on the link between fighting fires and cancer was completed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a part of the CDC, in 2013.

Dr. Tom Hales was on the team that analyzed 60 years of data from more than 30,000 firefighters.

"There is an association between firefighting and cancer and that association does appear to be causal,” said Hales.

“We found that firefighters have increased risk for all cancers and that increased risk was primarily driven by six types of cancers,” he said.

“Those were what we call oral cancers; gastrointestinal cancers; respiratory cancers (lung) and genital, urinary cancers (bladder, prostate, kidney),” he said.

In 2006, University of Cincinnati researchers concluded firefighters had a higher risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate, and testicular cancer after researchers reviewed 32 studies related to firefighters’ cancer risk.

Ohio Mayor Fires Back

In the meantime, David Smith, the mayor of Bridgeport, Ohio, immediately fired off an angry letter to the Ohio Municipal League after watching NewsChannel 5 initial investigation.

In the letter, Smith said he is "embarrassed and upset" by how Executive Director Susan Cave reacted to NewsChannel 5 Investigator Sarah Buduson's questions about the presumptive cancer law for firefighters.

The lobbying group is funded by Ohio cities and towns. 

It has used your tax dollars to oppose the presumptive cancer law  for firefighters for years.

When Buduson asked Cave why the Ohio Municipal League continued to oppose the legislation, she said, “One of the things we hear is it’s going to cost a good bit of money. . .  we got that from the workers compensation bureau so that was one of the things we based our opposition on,” she said.

When we followed up by asking, "Aren't we obligated to pay the bills?", Cave replied, "You know, you're being obnoxious about all this."

Smith said Cave showed a lack of appreciation for the sacrifices firefighters make to protect the public.

"I found it offensive as a mayor of a village who  pays dues to this organization that this lady would take such detrimental actions and not look out for the health, safety. and welfare of our fellow firefighters," said Smith during a phone interview Tuesday.

Find out more about why the Ohio Municipal League opposes SB 27 on March 10 on NewsChannel 5 at 11 p.m.