LANSING, Mich. — State Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. (D–East Lansing) and State Representative Winnie Brinks (D–Grand Rapids) have introduced legislation that would amend Public Act 515 of 2014 to include breast cancer as an eligible condition under the First Responder Presumed Coverage Fund. 

“This is about parity,” Sen. Hertel said. “Like their male colleagues, female fire fighters make priceless contributions in the name of public safety. When fire fighters develop cancer because of the hazards in their job environments, they deserve coverage and care — regardless of gender.”

Michigan lawmakers created the First Responders Presumed Coverage Fund to cover fire fighters if they develop testicular, prostate, lung, bladder, skin, brain, kidney, blood, thyroid or lymphatic cancers. Breast cancer, however, did not make the list. According to the National Fire Protection Association, women comprise 3.8 percent of the nation’s firefighting force. As a result, few studies have examined cancer risks specific to women. 

That’s beginning to change. Recent case studies in the San Francisco Fire Department, where 15.3 percent of the force is female, suggest an increase in breast cancer among women firefighters. In addition, studies have shown that workplace exposure to certain chemicals (i.e., formaldehyde and benzene) can raise the risk of developing breast cancer.

“I’ve fought to make sure that women get the life-saving breast cancer care they need throughout my time at the Capitol, and now it’s female fire fighters who need help,” Rep. Brinks said. “Fire fighters heroically put their lives at stake to help their neighbors. Now they are reporting higher than expected levels of breast cancer, and it’s our turn to come to their aid. Our proposal will make sure that fire fighters with breast cancer get the medical help they need.” 

According to the president of the Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union, Mark Docherty, the profession is risky despite preventive measures. “We’re working hard to protect fire fighters from workplace exposures, but there isn’t an easy fix,” Docherty said. “We welcome the leadership of Sen. Hertel and Rep. Brinks on this issue.”

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