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Firefighters want support in the battle against work-related cancer

Firefighters gathered to vocalize their support for a bill that would provide Virginia Workers Compensation for several types of work-related cancers.

SUFFOLK, Va. — According to the Center for Disease Control, firefighters see an increased risk of getting cancer because of the carcinogens they’re around at a fire. 

However, hope could be on the horizon for these first responders who are stuck with a hospital bill.

Firefighters from across Hampton Roads came together Wednesday morning to support House Bill 1804.

The bill will add brain, colon, testicular and several other cancers to the list of cancers covered under Virginia Worker’s Compensation law.

If the Virginia House of Delegates pass the bill, supporters said it’ll close workers competition loopholes. Those loopholes currently allow Workers Compensation to deny benefits to sick firefighters who develop cancer.

During a press conference at the Suffolk Professional Firefighters Union Hall, Newport News firefighter Adrian Manning said having cancer takes a toll on him and his family.

“It’s rough,” said Manning.

His wife said it was a shock when they found out Virginia Worker’s Compensation doesn’t automatically cover the prostate cancer treatments. Instead, she said they have to prove he got cancer from working as a firefighter, even though he has no family history of cancer.

Right now, House Bill 1804 is one of two bills that address compensation for firefighter cancers.

Senate Bill 1030 passed through the Senate with a 39-to-1 vote. It still must clear the House before it reaches the Governor’s desk.

In the meantime, the House of Delegates appropriations subcommittee will look at House Bill 1804 Thursday around 3 p.m.

These first responders are concerned because a bill was tabled last February that would've made the change.

That’s why supporters are telling 13News Now, they’re speaking out. Their hope is this bill is seen by the full house and is signed by Governor Ralph Northam soon.

Supporters of both bills said their goal is to keep firefighters healthy.

“We want to zero cancer claims. That’s what we’re fighting for in the departments,” said President of the Yorktown Williamsburg Professional Firefighters, Donald Donse.

Yet, in the case where a firefighter gets cancer like Manning did, they hope the community can help protect those who protect them. 

“I want to make sure that if my children or my grandchildren follow in my footsteps that one day they are not faced with the same diagnosis,” said Manning.

Richard Grosse, captain of Fire Station 9 in Kempsville, has seen first hand the long term health affects his job can have. He had a medical scare as well.

"The smoke is permeating into us and its causing cancer at a much higher rate than the average citizen," said Grosse.

He said going to the doctor is stressful enough as it is without having to wonder if the diagnosis will be covered or not.

"You don't want to go to the doctor thinking I hope its one of these (cancers) so I won't be medically burdened by bills through the doctor's office," explained Grosse. "Why aren't all cancers covered for firefighters, they are putting their lives on the line without question for the citizen."

Grosse was fortunately covered, but he's seen other firefighters that weren't as lucky, having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket.

"They shouldn't be selling their houses. They shouldn't be selling things to try and make health care payments," said Grosse. "We need the protections from Richmond to protect the firefighters and make sure that we'll have a quality of life down the road."

Like many in this profession, Grosse comes from a family of firefighters, including his brother and father, but as for the next generation, that remains to be seen.

"I have a son, I'd like him to come into the fire service but without protections its not something I would want to push on him to pursue," said Grosse.