Bill advances to improve survivor benefits for firefighters’ families

FRANKFORT – Surviving family members of cancer-stricken firefighters are a step closer to qualifying for state-paid survivor benefits after the Committee on State and Local Government approved legislation on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 138, which would determine that some firefighters who succumb to certain types of cancers died as the result of an act performed in the line of duty, passed out of committee by an 11-0 vote. If passed into law, it would make survivors eligible for an $80,000 death benefit.

“One of the biggest dangers facing firefighters right now is one you don’t see. That’s cancer,” Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, who is sponsoring the bill with Sen. Christian McDaniel, R-Latonia. Flanked by leaders of the Commonwealth’s various firefighter advocacy groups, McGarvey said the impetus for the bill was the hidden dangers of the job.

It’s easy to presume the elevated risk for firefighters is lung cancer from breathing smoke, he said. Most cancers come from contact with toxins from burned material, however.

“This is not running into a burning building and breathing smoke. This is not lung cancer. This is bladder cancer. It’s colon cancer. It’s kidney cancer, liver cancer, skin cancer,” he continued, listing other types of the disease with greater risk due to absorbed toxins.

Under the bill, a firefighter will have died as a result of an act performed in the line of duty if they were 65 years old or younger at the time of their passing and had been on the job for at least five consecutive years for the survivors to receive the benefit. Their cancer cannot be attributable to a preexisting condition or tobacco – they cannot have used tobacco in the 10 years preceding diagnosis.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. McGarvey said he hopes fellow legislators move quickly to pass the legislation.

“Unfortunately, this is a death benefit so it’s not something that will help firefighters when they’re alive,” he said. “But it is the least we can do for firefighters and their families.”

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