About 68 percent of firefighters get cancer.
That’s three times the rate of the general population. Yet firefighters find it hard to get worker’s compensation benefits for their illnesses.
Fire Captain Michael Palumbo is fighting that standard. A fire captain of 24 years, Palumbo, 48, is on leave from his full-time job with Beachwood and a part-time job with Willowick as he battles glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
State Sen. Tom Patton of Strongsville is trying to change state law to include that presumption, easing access to workers’ compensation benefits. This is his fourth attempt to get the bill through the General Assembly.
More than 30 states have enacted laws that recognize a presumption that when firefighters get cancer, it is job related.
"Men and women are getting cancer just because they are showing up to do their job, Patton said.
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State Sen. Tom Patton has introduced legislation in the Ohio Senate that would make it easier for firefighters to access benefits from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation when they are diagnosed with cancer.
Palumbo remembers clearly the exact moment in August, when cancer changed his life. He was walking with his wife, Chrissy, and one of their five children in a park Aug. 30 when he started to have stroke-like symptoms.
He was rushed to a Lake County hospital and later flown by helicopter to the Cleveland Clinic, where scans showed he had several lesions on his brain.
Palumbo underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He also has had brain surgery twice, most recently in February, when doctors removed a tumor. But other tumors remain.
He’s home recovering, and waiting to see if clinical trials become available for new forms of treatment.
“I plan to meet this challenge head on every day.”
In 2013, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health began releasing the first results of a large study it conducted. It found:
- Fire personnel had more cancer deaths and cancer cases than expected.
- This increase in cancer was primarily due to digestive, oral, respiratory, and urinary cancers.
- There were about twice as many malignant mesothelioma cases — likely due to asbestos exposure — than expected.
- Some cancers, such as bladder and prostate cancers, occurred at a higher-than-expected rate among younger fighters.