Firefighter cancer naysayers are morally bankrupt

Firefighters suffering with cancer don't have the luxury of time to wait for the research to prove beyond a doubt that it's job-related


Connecticut lawmakers are considering a bill that would pay workers' compensation benefits to firefighters who contract certain cancers. The presumption is that the cancers are job-related.

The Hartford Courant ran an editorial opposing the measure saying there's not enough research to presume a link between firefighting and cancer. The paper wants there to be hard, indisputable proof that firefighting leads to cancer before committing public funds to helping firefighters.

The argument against is that the cost of cancer benefits coupled with the prevalence of cancer could bankrupt some towns and cities.

This is an argument often trotted out when firefighters request financial help dealing with their cancers. We saw it play out a few months back on the federal level when Congress nearly let the Zadroga Act expire and cut off funding for those ill from the work they did following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The editorial is a bit wishy-washy in laying out how much evidence is enough to warrant firefighter cancer benefits. However, consider this: science by its nature is always looking to prove or disprove existing beliefs through continued research. Scientists rarely say a finding is absolutely correct as future research may modify it.

And even when science gives us its best guess in light of overwhelming evidence, you still have pockets of deniers outside the scientific community who refuse to accept it. How many still believe childhood vaccinations cause autism?

The evidence linking firefighting activities and cancer may never be 100 percent irrefutable. But as it sits, many researchers are confident that firefighting increases the chances of contracting nearly 20 different types of cancer.

On the money side, fiscal responsibility is more than a good thing. It is a primary responsibility of every elected and appointed official. A bankrupt city is not in anyone's best interest.

Despite what you may think of some of the presidential candidates, all of these officials are human. And like the rest of us, they have a human responsibility as well as a fiscal one.

And when it comes to balancing those sometimes competing responsibilities, the human side must take priority. That's especially true when a community is asked to help those who served it as a career or volunteer responder.

Science moves at a slow and deliberate pace; cancer and financial ruin move like fire in a well-ventilated house. The firefighters suffering the physical and financial pain of cancer don't have the luxury of time; they may not be around when more convincing proof is reached. And even then, it is not clear where that convincing-proof line is being drawn.

A community's financial bankruptcy is tragic, but can be overcome. A community's moral bankruptcy for not protecting those they relied on for protection is terminal.

No firefighter should have to rely on GoFundMe to pay their cancer-related bills. Please, keep the heat on your community members and officials to support their firefighters suffering from cancer. 

About the author

Rick Markley is editor-in-chief of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, a volunteer firefighter and fire investigator. He serves on the board of directors of and is actively involved with the International Fire Relief Mission, a humanitarian aid organization that delivers unused fire and EMS equipment to firefighters in developing countries. He holds a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's of fine arts. He has logged more than 10 years as an editor-in-chief and written numerous articles on firefighting. He can be reached at Rick.Markley@FireRescue1.com.

  1. Tags
  2. Health & Wellness
  3. Legislation & Funding
  4. Cancer
  5. Exclusives

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