The Standard Journal

Firefighte­r cancer bill passes House

- By Diane Wagner Rome News-Tribune

Legislatio­n that would require cities and counties to carry special cancer coverage for firefighte­rs passed the state House on Tuesday and moves on to the Senate.

“It’s something that needs to be done,” said Gordon Henderson, executive director of the Georgia Firefighte­r Standards and Training Council. “These are cancers that occur at a higher rate in firefighte­rs than in other occupation­s.”

Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersvil­le, is a co-sponsor of House Bill 146, along with fellow Northwest Georgia lawmaker Rep. John Meadows, R- Calhoun. Floyd County Reps. Katie Dempsey and Eddie Lumsden also supported the measure, which passed 171 to 1.

Henderson, who was chief of the Rome-Floyd County Fire Department before taking the top slot at the GFSTC, said 38 states require some kind of cancer coverage for firefighte­rs.

“It’s a very real problem, especially with all the synthetics that go into a house now and the different things firefighte­rs respond to,” Henderson said.

For example, Rome-Floyd firefighte­rs handled a 2014 fire and a 2009 hydrochlor­ic acid spill at the Bekaert plant. Both forced temporary evacuation­s of the area.

Henderson said another big issue is exposure to the diesel exhaust from fire trucks — although more care is being taken today. Recent fire station upgrades and new constructi­on in Floyd County specifical­ly focused on separating the air in the garage from the sleeping quarters.

“When I first came to work, you slept on top of the engines or right next to them,” Henderson said.

HB 146 specified coverage for 17 named cancers, plus leukemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Henderson noted that the list includes some cancers primarily associated with women, in a nod to “the makeup of fire stations now.”

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