During a late evening session of the State House of Representatives, Shelton legislators Ben McGorty (R-122) and Jason Perillo (R-113) voted in favor of a bill they are co sponsoring which will create a Firefighter’s Cancer Relief Fund. The fund would be created by the diversion of $0.01 from the current e911 fee on phone bills, and will be used exclusively for the purpose of providing wage replacement benefits for eligible paid and volunteer firefighter cancer victims, and to cover associated administrative costs. The fund is expected to generate $400,000 per year.
“Firefighters are on the front lines day and night protecting the lives of those in their communities,” said Rep. McGorty, who has served for thirty-six years in the fire service, is a Deputy Fire Marshal for the City of Shelton and serves on Shelton’s Board of Fire Commissioners.
He added, “the carcinogens and harmful chemicals that fill the smoke of a burning building and its contents are incredibly harmful, and even the best breathing apparatus available to firefighters can only do so much. This is an important measure that helps firefighters and will be run by firefighters.”
“Firefighters put their lives on the line each and every day, and sometime when their work day is done, the risks they take go home with them,” said Rep. Perillo, a former chief of Echo Hose Ambulance in Shelton. “This fund will offer important support for those who need it, to be reviewed by fellow firefighters. It’s an important and compassionate resource.”
In 2010 the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued findings from a study examining the medical histories of over 30,000 firefighters between 1950 and 2010. The study concluded that firefighters are were at an elevated risk to develop cancers of the respiratory, digestive and urinary systems, and were twice as likely to develop mesothelioma than those in other occupations.
The funds in the account will be managed by the Connecticut State Firefighters Association through a new “Cancer Relief Subcommittee.” This committee will review claims for wage replacement benefits and provide those benefits.
A qualifying firefighter will not be available to collect from the account until July 1st, 2019, giving adequate time for sufficient funds to accumulate in the account. Available benefits will be limited to what the fund contains. There is a two-year time limit to any benefits claimed.
In order to qualify for the wage replacement benefits, an applicant must have had a physical exam on entry into service that failed to show cancer, had subsequent physicals and cancer screenings annually thereafter, worked for at least five years on or after the effective date of the bill as an interior structural firefighter or marshal, investigator or inspector, and been free of tobacco use for the fifteen years prior to applying for benefits, among other requirements.
Individuals leaving service as firefighters continue to be eligible for five years after leaving service, but must have had annual physicals in those intervening years at their own expense.
The bill, HB 5262, An Act Concerning Workers’ Compensation Coverage for Current and Former Uniformed Members of Paid or Volunteer Fire Departments, passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 141 to 0, and now heads to the State Senate for action there. This session of the Connecticut General Assembly concludes at midnight, May 4.