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Chicago Firefighters More Likely To Die From Cancer Than Average Resident

Nearly 75% of all firefighter deaths in 2016 were cancer-related.

So says data from Firefighter Cancer Support Network, an organization whose aim is to bring comfort, support, and resources to families of firefighters who have received a cancer diagnosis. Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn called the number of firefighter cancer deaths in his city an “epidemic”  in a 2017 interview with NBC News’ Tom Costello.

In his NBC interview, Boston Fire Commissioner Finn recalls a 2002 explosion at a power plant. 200 city firefighters responded to a fire that left them covered with chemicals pouring from the ceiling. A quarter of those who responded have since been diagnosed with a cardiac issue or cancer.

It is nearly impossible to deny a link between increased cancer rates in firefighters and their exposure to toxic chemicals and fumes. Otherwise healthy firefighters across the country are being diagnosed with cancer at a rate higher than regular citizens. Specifically, a firefighter has a 14% higher chance of dying from cancer than their significant other, family member, or children. In fact, cancer is the biggest line-of-duty killer for firefighters, especially surprising give that their job is running into burning buildings, literally putting their lives on the line every single day to save ours.

 

Chicago & Suburban Fire Departments Report High Number of Cancer Deaths
A 2010 study from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the CDC, evaluated nearly 60 years of firefighter records from departments in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.

They found that firefighters not only have a higher cancer risk than ordinary civilians, but that they are more likely to develop certain types of the disease, specifically:

  • urinary system cancers (ie: bladder, kidney, among others)
  • digestive cancers (ie: stomach, colon, pancreatic, among others)
  • respiratory cancers (ie: lung cancers)
  • oral cancers

In addition to the NIOSH study, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) reports that Chicago is one of 7 U.S. cities that report high cancer rates among their firefighters. They also cite an increase in cancer risk the longer a firefighter remains on the job. The IAFF notes that the emergencies that our firefighters are responding to are different now, with residences and factories loaded with chemicals and synthetic materials that are known to cause cancer in humans.

 

Cities and Villages Fighting Grieving Families over Pension Payouts
Although the NIOSH study results were released in 2010, the topic of firefighters and cancer risk is again receiving attention due to a Chicago Tribune article this month that addressed the death of Buffalo Grove Firefighter Kevin Hauber. Hauber had spent 23 years with the Buffalo Grove Fire Department when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. A married father of four, Kevin Hauber didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and maintained a healthy weight. His wife, Kim, says that 3 independent physicians (not sought out by her or the Village of Buffalo Grove) ruled that his cancer was likely caused by his profession. This opinion led the Buffalo Grove Fire Pension Fund Board to rule that Kevin Hauber’s death was “in the line of duty,” allowing his wife and children to receive his full salary as his pension.

The village of Buffalo Grove disagreed with the Fire Pension Fund Board’s decision to grant Kim her husband’s full pension, saying there was no evidence that his job caused his death. Kim Hauber is currently suing the Village of Buffalo Grove.

A similar story of municipalities fighting the families of firefighters over pensions also happened to the widow of James “Jim” Carney, a Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protection District firefighter. Jim Carney, a beloved firefighter, father, and husband, was diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma. He died just before Christmas 2017. After his diagnosis, it was ruled by physicians that his cancer was caused by his job and he began receiving disability benefits and his full pension. After his death, city officials from Lincolnshire and Riverwoods denied his widow and children his health insurance. The family sued and a Lake County court sided with the family. However, city officials decided to appeal the decision, taking the case to an Illinois appellate court. The higher court upheld the lower court’s decision, allowing the Carney’s to continue receiving Jim’s health insurance benefits.

 

Loved Ones of Firefighters: Let Levin & Perconti Help You Fight Back
While it is admittedly difficult to prove a direct cause behind most cancers, as workplace injury attorneys, we know the power of evidence in the form of medical and scientific research. The CDC and its occupational safety division, NIOSH, are the preeminent voices of occupational health risks. Their finding of elevated cancer risks in firefighters from the 3 cities from which they analyzed records means that many other cities and towns are experiencing the same epidemic. A law passed this July requires the CDC to create and maintain a firefighter cancer registry, tracking and reporting all cancer diagnoses in firefighters across the country. While the registry is still being developed, it is hoped that having a central place that combines this data will finally serve as conclusive evidence that many cancers our firefighters are battling are caused by on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins.

In many of these stories, the power of the brother and sisterhood of firefighters is evident. Medical doctors are ruling many of these firefighters have developed cancer as a result of the toxins they’ve been exposed to as part of their job and fire departments and their pension boards are rallying behind their own, granting full in-the-line-of-duty pensions to grieving families and their spouses. But when cities, villages, and towns decide that they want to undermine evidence and medical professionals in order to assure taxpayers they are just looking after their financial best interests, everyone loses. Denying what’s rightly due to the loved ones of those men and women who put their lives on the line to protect ours is a glaring injustice.

If you are the spouse or child of a firefighter who has been diagnosed or has passed away due to cancer or any other job-affiliated injury and a city, village, or the municipality is denying an in-the-line-of-duty pension or other benefits, Levin & Perconti wants to help you. Consultations are FREE and we are not paid unless we recover money for you.

Please, contact us now by calling (312) 332-2872 or by completing our online case evaluation form.