GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Despite a large show of support and lobby attempts in Raleigh, the North Carolina Senate passed a 2021-2023 budget and did not include occupational cancer coverage for firefighters.
North Carolina is still on track to remain the only state in the country where firefighters do not get some type of coverage for the risks they take, however, there is hope in the House.
On Thursday, the Senate did not approve the passing of SB 472 to be included in its $25.7 billion budget.
SB 472 would have set up a trust worth $25,000 for North Carolina firefighters. If a firefighter is diagnosed with one of seven common occupationally-related cancers found in firefighters, they would receive that trust upfront to cover the cost of medical expenses.
In order to qualify, a firefighter must have “a minimal of five years of service; you can’t have been in an occupation five years prior that also had a significant cause for these cancers, and you cannot have a history of tobacco use.”
“I think there are still those in the Senate who have an ideological opposition to benefits like this, regardless of which occupation might be receiving them,” said Dave Coker, the Union President for Greensboro Firefighters.
He has been at the forefront of this fight for more than a decade, and each year he sees friends die from cancer while those in Raleigh stall out on getting them help.
“First in flight, last in helping firefighters,” is how he has seen it.
Despite the failure in the Senate, he still remains hopeful that House Bill 535 will pass.
It would give firefighters $25,000 for a cancer diagnosis, and up to $50,000 for treatment. It would also pay off out-of-pocket payments up to $12,000 and would give some sort of disability coverage if a firefighter is put out of work for an extended period of time due to their illness.
“We’re going to be cautiously optimistic, and continue to work for the bill,” Coker said.
Firefighters from across the state have made Raleigh their temporary home for the past few years when it comes to the amount of time they spend there trying to get support for their cause.
The amount of support has also grown within the firefighter community, with newer firefighters realizing the dangers they face in this profession.
“They see coworkers and colleagues, not only in their home department and their home firefighter union but around the state who are succumbing to occupational cancer. I think what is motivating people is the real-time impact of their fellow workers,” Coker said.
The state budget won’t be approved until sometime in August.
Coker and other firefighters ask, if you haven’t already, contact your congressman and show them you support this bill.