No one doubts that fighting fires in the Kansas City area is a dangerous profession. Entering burning buildings, rescuing trapped victims, and driving ladder trucks through congested cities are just a few of the hazardous situations firefighters find themselves in on a daily basis. However, the biggest risk firefighters face may be the long-term illnesses they suffer because of the materials they are exposed to on the job. In fact, firefighters experience higher rates of various types of cancer. Proving that chronic illnesses are work related in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits can be difficult, but, fortunately, firefighters in Kansas and Missouri are protected by laws that all but guarantee benefits if they develop certain cancers.
"Presumptive Laws" Cover Many Types of Cancers, Though Speficics Vary State to State
Currently, 33 states have laws that presume firefighters who have been diagnosed with certain cancers developed the disease due to exposure on the job and do not require them to prove the connection in order to be awarded workers’ compensation benefits. In order to deny benefits, the cities and townships that employ those workers would have to prove that their cancers were caused by something else, such as smoking cigarettes. Firefighters in the 17 states that do not have presumptive laws—including Kentucky and Arkansas—have to go to great lengths to prove the connection between work duties and their cancer and are often denied benefits.
The laws differ from state to state regarding which kinds of cancer they cover. The Missouri law is wide-reaching and covers the following:
- Cancer affecting the skin or the central nervous, lymphatic, and digestive systems
- Hematological, urinary, skeletal, and oral cancer
- Breast, testicular, genitourinary, liver, or prostate cancer
- Any condition of cancer, which may result from exposure to heat or radiation or to a known or suspected carcinogen as determined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer
The law in Kansas is stated in more general terms and covers:
- Any type of cancer which may, in general, result from exposure to heat, radiation, or a known carcinogen
Each state has additional requirements, such as health exams, and offers different benefits. But in the face of the bad news of a cancer diagnosis, firefighters in Kansas and Missouri at least have the reassurance that they will be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits.
Exposure Risks Faced by Firefighters
Just how high is the cancer risk for firefighters? Several ongoing studies are trying to determine that. Preliminary results from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study of 30,000 firefighters finds that the rates of cancer are higher among firefighters than the general population. Specifically:
- Cancers of the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems accounted for most of the cancers found in the study population.
- The population of firefighters in the study had a rate of mesothelioma—an aggressive cancer of the lining of the lungs and abdomen caused by exposure to asbestos—two times greater than the rate in the U.S. population as a whole.
Firefighters are exposed to toxins in burning plastics, flame retardants, and many other chemicals. They are also exposed to asbestos when they fight fires in older buildings. While firefighters wear protective gear that is constantly improving, they are still exposed and in danger of developing disease.
Have You Been Injured On The Job?
If you've been hurt at work on the job in Kansas City you need to speak with an experienced workers' compensation attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.