Lawmakers will encounter firefighters’ ‘graveyard’

The state's firefighters aren't wasting any time trying to get the attention of Florida lawmakers.
Photo Courtesy of Florida Firefighter Cancer Coverage Facebook page.

The Florida Cancer Presumption Coalition will collaborate with firefighters around the country to raise awareness for occupational cancer at the Florida Capitol on Thursday.

There will be a minimum of 500 pairs of boots placed on the steps of the Capitol from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to a release, with each pair representing.

“A Florida firefighter who has passed away or is still fighting the occupational diseases, cancer.”

The purpose of the display is to raise awareness along with legislative support for bills that will “extend proper coverage to Florida firefighters faced with a cancer diagnosis.”

“We aren’t statistics. We are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters,” said North Collier firefighter Heather Mazurkiewicz, one of the event’s coordinators.

“We want the state legislators to have a visual picture of how the occupational disease is impacting our profession. On March 7, the legislators will have to walk through our graveyard to get to their offices.”

SB 426 and HB 857 were introduced on Tuesday, the opening day of the 2019 legislative session, by Sen. Anitere Flores and State Rep. Matt Wilhite. If passed, these bills would provide firefighters with better benefits should they qualify, including requiring employers to make disability payments to a firefighter in the event of a permanent disability and providing death benefits to a firefighter’s beneficiary if they die as a result of cancer or cancer treatments.

According to the International Association of Firefighters, there are three key studies “that provide the scientific basis regarding increased cancer risk from the occupation of firefighting.” They are the Grace K. LeMasters meta‐analysis, a study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and a study of firefighters in five Nordic countries.

The LeMasters meta-analysis was developed by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati, who combined data from 32 smaller studies of firefighters to conclude that there are at least 10 types of cancers that firefighters are more likely to fall victim to than the general population, including being twice as likely to develop testicular cancer and 40 percent more likely to develop skin cancer.

The NIOSH study examined 29,993 firefighters from Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco over the course of 59 years (1950-2009) and concluded that firefighters are 14 percent more likely to die from cancer than the general population. The study also found that firefighters have an increased risk of dying from seven different types of cancer, including being twice as likely to die from mesothelioma than the general population.

The Nordic study examined 16,422 firefighters and found an increased risk for all cancers, including a 159 percent increase in the likelihood of developing prostate cancer for firefighters ages 30 to 49.

The Florida Senate will have a session Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and many House subcommittees will convene throughout the day as well.