Group calls on Deal, Carter to support protections - CBS46 News

Group calls on Deal, Carter to support protections for sick firefighters

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A firefighters' organization has called on Georgia gubernatorial candidates to announce their support for legislation that would provide financial protections to sick firefighters. 

The state chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters held a news conference Thursday at the Capitol in which speakers described the hardships firefighters face when they get sick from on-the-job exposures.

"If [the public is] going to ask firefighters to bare these occupational illnesses the very least they can do is cover them through the state's workers' compensation program or the state's indemnification fund," said Jim Daws, president of the state chapter of the IAFF.

As CBS46 reported in July, recent studies found firefighters are at an increased risk of developing certain cancers, likely because of the growing number of household products that are toxic when they burn.

But firefighters in Georgia who develop those common cancers and other occupational illnesses do not receive workers' compensation because doctors can't confirm the sickness was caused by their jobs. 

"There are a lot of families that are out there hurting because of the lack of this legislation," said Daws.

One of those families is the Trotter family, of Newnan.

Jason Trotter was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma earlier this year, six months after the former Fairburn firefighter responded to a PCP lab explosion. 

Trotter believes that exposure caused his cancer, but his doctor couldn't prove it.

"It's hard to believe there are not more protections for firefighters, especially in this line of work where we are exposed to so many hazards," said Trotter.

Trotter's situation was made even more difficult this month when the city of Fairburn terminated him because he wasn't well enough to return to work.  Trotter now loses his medical coverage and pension. 

Daws said eight to 10 firefighters in Georgia are terminated each year after they come down with occupational illnesses.

"When they do [get sick] the deck is stacked against them because they are asked to prove that these illnesses are caused by occupational hazards which is impossible to do," said Daws.

Most states have presumption laws that would provide workers' compensation benefits to sick firefighters, assuming they contracted the illness on the job. State Sen. Curt Thompson has proposed presumption legislation several times since 2002 with no luck.   

Governor Deal's campaign spokesman said Deal supports looking at a "tailored bill."

State Sen. Jason Carter's campaign did not respond to reporter Jeff Chirico's inquiry.

"I think we need to get these candidates to put their money where their mouth is," said Thompson.  

Daws said the IAFF's calculations predict presumption laws would cost Georgia $500,000 a year.

"There aren't hundreds of cases that happen but when it happens these folks need it," said Thompson.

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