A newly passed bill seeks to aid New Hampshire firefighters in receiving workers’ compensation benefits when they’ve been diagnosed with cancer.
The bipartisan Senate Bill 71, signed into law on August 9, 2023, amended the introductory provisions of RSA 281-A:17, II making all types of cancer among firefighters a presumptive occupational disease. More specifically, the statue reads that “there shall exist a prima facie presumption that cancer disease in a firefighter, whether a regular, call, volunteer, or retired member of a fire department, is occupationally caused.” This amendment will make it easier for state firefighters to obtain much needed workers’ compensation benefits, such as medical bills and lost wages, should they develop a cancer diagnosis.
Previously, in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits, a firefighter with cancer would have to prove that the cancer that had been caused by “exposure to heat, radiation or a known carcinogen, as defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.” Senate Bill 71 removed that language, which in turn creates a presumption that any cancer diagnosis for a firefighter is work related. This should allow firefighters with cancers that may not have been previously covered, such as breast cancer, lymphoma, lung cancer, and throat cancer, to receive the applicable benefits under the New Hampshire workers’ compensation statute.
“This is a great change for the firefighters and the folks who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe,” Attorney John Ward noted. “First responders should not have to worry about putting food on the table after a cancer diagnosis.”
A comprehensive study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters, noting a nine percent (9%) increase in diagnoses and a fourteen percent (14%) increase in cancer-related deaths when compared to the general public. In response, in 2018, Congress developed the National Firefighter Registry (NFR) to better understand the link between firefighting and cancer. The NFR collects information from a wide and diverse range of firefighters with the goal to reduce cancer among firefighters.
To join the National Firefighter Registry or to get more information on how to help, visit the website at nfr.cdc.gov.