By Talbert Toole
The Professional Firefighters Association of Mississippi (PROFAM) recently introduced legislation—SB 2835 and HB 1385—to the Mississippi Legislature advocating for protections for its first responders who suffer from occupational diseases and illnesses. These are diseases contracted as a result of work-related activities.
However, the Mississippi Association of Supervisors (MAS) and the Mississippi Municipal League (MML) issued a statement this week saying the fire and police departments represented by these two organizations are not supporting the Mississippi First Responders Health and Safety Act, Senate Bill 2835 due to the alleged fiscal cost of the bill, according to PROFAM’s website.
Although HB 1385 died in committee, its twin bill, SB 2835, passed through the Committee Substitute and the Senate. It will now be handed over to the House where it will be assigned to the appropriate committee.
Research shows that first responders, such as firefighters and police officers, develop occupational diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes at a higher rate than the general population.
Michelle Crowley, vice president of PROFAM and retired firefighter of 26.5 years, thanked the Mississippi Senate for passing such a crucial piece of legislation that would protect the state’s first responders.
“Firefighters and police officers across the state will be ensured not to have to carry this burden of occupational disease alone,” Crowley said. “When diagnosed, these first responders carry all of the financial burdens, along with trying to fight cancer.”
The bill would allocate a specific amount of money to assist first responders who develop occupational diseases depending on the type that is diagnosed, Crowley said.
Mississippi is one of three states still without protections for its first responders who suffer from these particular diseases and illnesses, according to PROFAM.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in October 2013, firefighters have a 14 percent increased risk of dying from cancer compared to the general population.
The health risk for firefighters is higher due to occupational diseases. The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) also conducted a study of line-of-duty deaths among career firefighters between 2002-2017 in which it found that occupational diseases caused 65 percent of the deaths. Eighteen percent of deaths were from cardiac events.
The organization also released data that found in 2018 alone occupational cancer caused 76 percent (117) of career firefighter line-of-duty deaths.
Police officers also have a proven increase in the risk of heart disease and some cancers. A study was conducted with 464 officers of the Buffalo, New York Police Department which showed signs of occupational health disparity within five years of employment.
Crowley said PROFAM has been working on these particular pieces of legislation for three years. She said the length of time was due to the constraints firefighters deal with as first responders.
Firefighters work 24-hour shifts with 48 hours off, Crowley said. In addition to serving their respective cities and counties, most firefighters also have to have part-time jobs to provide for their families.
She said that first responders give everything for their communities.
“It’s time to protect those who protect us,” she said.