Minn. captain's death from cancer ruled LODD, marking first for state

The public safety commissioner highlighted several occupational factors in the death of St. Paul Fire Capt. Mike Paidar

Mara H. Gottfried
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — St. Paul Fire Capt. Mike Paidar loved helping people and his family is hoping a new determination about his death will allow that legacy to live on.

Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington recently concluded Paidar's death from cancer was linked to his work and therefore occurred in the line of duty, making his family eligible for public safety officer death benefits.

Paidar became a St. Paul firefighter in 2011 and also served as a firefighter in Maple Grove, where he lived.
Paidar became a St. Paul firefighter in 2011 and also served as a firefighter in Maple Grove, where he lived.

The designation for Paidar, who was 53, is a historical first for the state, according to the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 21. The St. Paul union's president said it's important because studies have found that firefighters are at greater risk of cancer due to carcinogens they are exposed to in their work.

"It can hopefully create a new pathway for families, if firefighters succumb to cancer or leukemia" because of their work that their deaths are regarded as line-of-duty, said Julie Paidar, Mike's wife of 25 years. "As much as it's heartbreaking that we had to go through this, we hope it will help others down the line."

Paidar became a St. Paul firefighter in 2011 and also served as a firefighter in Maple Grove, where he lived. His path to the St. Paul fire department came after a successful career as a KSTP-TV photojournalist. He joined the fire department when he was 44.

Paidar was diagnosed in February 2020 with acute myeloid leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy and was determined to be able to get back to work, but he died on Aug. 26, 2020. He and Julie were the parents of two children, who are 21 and 23.

State law for public safety officer death benefits says eligibility is based on the death occurring in the course or scope of duties and that historically has not been a death from cancer, Harrington wrote to Julie Paidar in a letter she received Monday.

But Harrington wrote that he considered a number of factors in making the determination about Mike Paidar, including:

— He was involved in 1,350 fire incidents, 1,600 fire runs and 4,800 emergency medical services calls.

— Medical records showed no health concerns from 2011 to 2020.

— Studies "linking the number of firefighter's 'fire hours' to leukemia mortality and that the risk of leukemia mortality peaks earlier in a firefighter's career for those who are more susceptible."

— Paidar's physician stated that given his young age and "otherwise excellent health," she concluded it was "more likely than not that his occupational exposure led to his development of leukemia."

"Having been in law enforcement for nearly 40 years, I understand the dangers facing public safety officers each day," Harrington wrote to Julie Paidar. "And it appears that in your husband's case, the danger was not solely an immediate one. As such, I believe his death falls within the intended definition of 'killed in the line of duty.'"

The Minnesota public safety officer death benefit was nearly $167,000 in 2020, according to the Public Safety Department. Children can also receive benefits for higher education tuition in the state.

It wasn't about the money for the Paidar family, but to help other families because cancer deaths had not been officially recognized in Minnesota as work-related for firefighters. "We knew it was going to be a tough battle to get this approved" because of the way state law is written, said Mike Smith, Local 21 president.

Minnesota workers' compensation benefits apply to active-duty firefighters who can't work due to cancer that is linked to heat, radiation or carcinogens, but there isn't that same wording for line-of-duty death benefits. Smith said he believes the law about death benefits needs to change because "more and more, we're seeing that firefighters have a higher risk of cancer."


(c)2021 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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