State bill aims to redefine firefighter, changing healthcare benefits

A South Carolina bill that’s making its way through the Senate could change what firefighters receive as a cancer health care benefit plan.
Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 5:02 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2023 at 1:47 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A South Carolina bill that’s making its way through the Senate could change what firefighters receive as a cancer health care benefit plan.

The definition of a firefighter only includes actual residents of South Carolina, but if this change were to pass, non-South Carolina residents who work in the state could also receive these benefits.

The Professional Fire Fighters of South Carolina, a chartered state association of the International Association of Fire Fighters, says cancer is the leading occupational cause of death for fire fighters across the world and its crucial for South Carolina to make this change.

“Cancer does not stop at the state lines,” John Baker, director of government relations for the Professional Fire Fighters of South Carolina, said. “We take everything home with us.”

Fire fighters diagnosed with cancer can receive a $20,000 lump sum payment at initial diagnosis and up to $12,000 in medical expenses covered each year. This only applies to those who have worked five continuous years in South Carolina and been in active service within ten years of the diagnosis.

“We are so much more susceptible to cancer now than ever before because of the materials that are inside of homes, and they’re actually classifying firefighting as a carcinogen much like cigarettes,” Baker said.

Just changing seven words of the law would include non-residents of South Carolina, and that could greatly benefit the departments that would be severely understaffed without those coming in most likely from North Carolina or Georgia, Baker said.

“I would say for right now it’s working for South Carolina residents,” Baker said. “We hope that we never see cancer in the fire service, but we know that we are highly susceptible to the exposures, the carcinogens and the pfas that are starting to come out more and more with studies that are happening.”

James Rose is a federal firefighter for the Department of Defense and has served over 20 years across the Lowcountry both full and part-time. He said it’s not as easy to get these benefits as it seems.

“They claim the benefits are out there and a lot of times they aren’t,” Rose said. “Or if the benefits are out there, they are very slow to get to the families in need.”

Rose said it depends on who you work for how long it takes to get these benefits and he knows some people whose families have been left stranded after their firefighter dies of cancer without anything to lean on.

“I think they just think it’s automatic and happens right away and there’s nothing really automatic about it,” Rose said.

He said he wishes lawmakers would get out there and see what it’s really like to be a firefighter before passing this bill.

Baker said they just want to prioritize everyone’s safety.

“We hope that everyone continues to be safe and serve the citizens, and do the best job in the world,” Baker said.

The bill still has to go through the committee before it is officially passed by the Senate.

To learn more about the Professional Firefighters of South Carolina, click here.