Occupational cancer is a serious risk for first responders due to the nature of their work. Today, firefighters across the state were in Gulfport for a fire investigator’s conference.
It takes a special kind of person to be a firefighter and put your life at risk for complete strangers, but when Mississippi firefighters need help due to job hazards, they are often times left in the dark. Gulfport Fire Lieutenant Ryker Haselden developed prostate cancer. “My wife and I have two children, one of whom, our youngest, is disabled. So, my wife is a stay-at-home mom. It is a financial hardship for us, me being out of work for two months.”
Firefighters have a 14 percent increased risk of dying from cancer compared to the general population. Prior to the January legislative session, Mississippi had no laws protecting first responders, but they soon will thanks to the passing of Senate Bill 2835. Pro-Fam Vice President Michelle Crowley said, “It gives them a chance to be able to heal and not have to worry about bills, medical bills, medical issues, and take care of their family at the same time.”
Mississippi was the 48th state in the nation to pass this type of legislation. This bill provides funding to first responders that helps pay for their cancer treatments and the time they have to take off work.
Here on the Gulf Coast at least four firemen have recently had occupational cancer. “It is exciting knowing that future generation of firefighters that are coming up behind us have this protection in place because there is a huge risk in the fire service industry with occupational cancer.”
Right now, the bill is on its way to the governor to be signed. The tentative signing date is April 22nd. Some of the benefits will go into effect in 2021 and 2022. Fire Chief Michael Beyerstedt said, “They realize there are risks. There are risks going into a burning building. There are risks being out on a highway with cars going by at 80 miles an hour on an accident scene. They realize those risks and they are just looking at ways to mitigate those risks and make it so it is not such a gamble going to work every day.”
Other law enforcement, such as police officers, will also benefit from the legislation.