Firefighters with Cancer

A firefighter points while standing in front of a pile of burning rubble and other workers.

The house was built in 1912. It was a simple 2-story traditional style home painted white with black trim. The closets smell like plaster, the water tastes like lead, and there’s a space heater in the upstairs room. It’s just like the home my grandparents lived in. We’ve all seen this house, it’s the kind of older home with three-prong outlets, and no ground wire. So, it’s no surprise when it actually goes up in flames.
The smoke produced with a house fire is not like your ordinary bonfire smoke. There are numerous carcinogens in a house that when burned can cause extensive health issues to those who come in contact with the fire or inhale its smoke. Coming into contact with excessive natural wood smoke is bad enough, but when you add vinyl, sheetrock, linoleum, asbestos, and paint, to name a few, the dangers can be startling.

So, what exactly is a carcinogen? According to the American Cancer Society, a carcinogen is any substance or agent and its exposure that can lead to cancer. Cancer is caused by changes in a cell’s DNA – also known as its genetic “blueprint.” Some of these changes may be inherited from our parents, while other changes are caused by outside exposures, often referred to as environmental factors. These environmental factors include a wide range of exposures, such as:

  • Naturally occurring exposures (ultraviolet light, radon gas, or infectious agents)
  • Workplace exposures
  • Pollutions
  • Medical treatments (radiation and medicines including chemotherapy, hormone drugs, etc)
  • Lifestyle factors (tobacco use, nutrition, or physical activity)

What are some likely carcinogens a firefighter could come into contact with?

  • Asbestos
  • Talc
  • Coal-tars
  • Soot
  • Diesel exhaust
  • Wood dust
  • Benzene

According to Minn. Stat. § 176.011, Subd. 15, an active-duty firefighter who is unable to perform firefighter duties due to a “a disabling cancer of a type caused by exposure to heat, radiation, or a known or suspected carcinogen . . . is presumed to have an occupational disease . . .” In other words, if you’re a firefighter, and have been diagnosed with cancer, there is a good chance you could receive disability benefits.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (“IARC”) is listed in the statute as the defining authority to gauge whether or not a type of cancer is caused by the carcinogen in question, and includes Group 1, 2A, and 2B carcinogens. In other words, if you contract a cancer that is caused by a known or suspected carcinogen, and the carcinogen is reasonably linked to the cancer, then you are covered under the statute and should receive the statutory presumption of causation.

Firefighting inherently involves exposure to cancer causing substances, hence the statutory presumption of causation. With a presumption of causation, you don’t have to prove that your work caused the cancer in question. You only have to prove that you have one of the specified cancers (caused by a carcinogen) and such carcinogen is reasonably linked to the cancer. Once proven, the court will then presume your cancer was caused by your work as a firefighter.

If you are a Minnesota firefighter who has been diagnosed with cancer and have questions about whether you have a workers’ compensation claim, are eligible for a PERA Duty Disability claim, or wondering if the statutory presumption of causation would come into play with your claim, contact the attorneys at Meuser Law Office, P.A. Our attorneys have experience representing clients with this type of work comp and PERA claim. Contact us today at 877-746-5680 for a free no-obligation consultation.