Firefighters Risk Their Lives, Cities Deny Their Workers’ Comp
When a building erupts into flame, Arizona’s firefighters race to the scene. It’s dangerous work. We all understand the dangers these firefighters face from the heat, smoke and burning frames, but burning buildings also come with other dangers. Burning chemicals can release carcinogenic gases that can lead to cancer.
In 2017, Arizona’s lawmakers passed HB2161 to protect firefighters from the financial burdens caused by the cancers they suffer due to workplace exposure. The law names several forms of cancer that firefighters can say are the result of their jobs. But Arizona Capitol Times reports that some of Arizona’s cities have denied the workers’ comp claims firefighters have made for these cancers.
Follow the money
It’s hard to imagine that cities would deny claims to the men and women who risk their lives every day to save others, but there may be one chief, hidden cause for the denials—money. Several of Arizona’s cities, including Phoenix, are self-insured for workers’ compensation. They pay for claims out of their own accounts, creating a potential a conflict of interest.
The Attorney General’s response
The public uproar over the denials has led the Attorney General to get involved. However, because the Attorney General cannot represent individuals, Arizona Capitol Times says the office is weighing its options. For now, the Attorney General has sent letters to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, as well as to the City of Phoenix. Phoenix denied at least one claim and is not part of the league.
Firefighters caught in the middle
While the Attorney General’s office plans its next step, Arizona’s firefighters are still trying to cope with their cancers and the financial burdens they present. Phoenix has started to approve claims after its City Council received the Attorney General’s letter, but other firefighters may need to seek legal representation even as they battle their diseases.
Stepping up for Arizona’s first responders
Remarkably, Arizona’s firefighters often claim to have no regrets. They love helping others. One told the Arizona Capitol Times that he loved how people expressed their gratitude after he helped pull them out of the worst days of their lives. Now, as this man, his peers and their families struggle with cancer, they find their time limited. They don’t have time for lengthy political battles. Their biggest hope might be that their attorneys can convince Arizona’s cities to change their minds and reward them the workers’ compensation they’re due.