Iowa firefighters are pressing for changes that would boost the benefits for firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer. Under current Iowa law, firefighters who’re diagnosed with heart or lung disease automatically get higher disability benefits — as well as death benefits — because firefighters convinced legislators in the past those conditions are job-related.
Senator Jeff Danielson, a fire fighter from Cedar Falls, is sponsoring a bill which would increase benefits for firefighters who get cancer. "In many ways this is a widow’s bill and a children’s bill that provides some measure of financial help for those families that have to deal with that diagnosis from that point forward," Danielson says.
According to Danielson, firefighters would have to make a larger contribution to their pension plan if his bill becomes law, but Danielson admits the cities that employ firefighters will have to pay more, too. Jessica Harder of the Iowa League of Cities says it may not be realistic to assume every fire fighter who gets cancer got it because of their job.
"As people age, the incidence of cancer increases so I think that’s just part of maybe the human condition," she says. "I mean, health-wise, your health can go down as you get older." The president of the state’s firefighters union suggests the two sides may be able to reach a compromise by adopting a list of cancers to which firefighters are most susceptible.
But Danielson, a Democrat and the bill’s author, says if the full senate debates his bill, he plans to ask that in addition to firefighters, police officers also get larger disability checks and death benefits if they’re diagnosed with cancer.