Local firefighters pushing for legislation to expand cancer coverage

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters, according to the International Association of Firefighters.

Firefighters put their lives on the line to save others, and statistics show the job could be linked to cancer. According to the IAFF, cancer caused 70 percent of line-of-duty deaths for career firefighters in 2016.

"We're fighting them with petroleum products, foam, plywoods that are glued together, so that's what the science is showing is causing our problems," said Greg Sazonov, vice president for the Roanoke County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Union. 

House Bill 1245 was just stalled in a General Assembly subcommittee. The bill would have provided more protection for firefighters diagnosed with cancer by adding colon, brain and testicular cancer to the list of diseases covered under workers' compensation. It would have also made it easier for firefighters to connect their cancer diagnosis to their job.

"Our hopes are that if a firefighter gets an illness that is related to his or her job, that the government will help support them while they are recovering from their illness," said Sazonov.

But with the house bill delayed and two similar Senate bills already killed, Sazonov's hopes will have to be on hold for now, even as some of his coworkers and fellow firefighters fall ill.

"In the valley alone, there are several people and there are some that have died. That's a tragedy," said Sazonov.

The bill did not make it out of committee. Under Rule 22, the bill was put to the side for now. That means the bill will not be passed or discussed any further this session, but it can be reintroduced next year.