New NC budget expands coverage for firefighters with cancer

Keith Kirton in a photo by Carleigh Griffeth/CBS North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It may be a small part of the state budget, but it has an enormous impact on people the public relies on most in an emergency.

The General Assembly has expanded the line-of-duty death benefits for firefighters.

RELATED: Firefighters and cancer: Who will save them?

First responders tell CBS North Carolina it’s a step in the right direction, but far from the real help they need.

Spending time with his grandkids is one of Keith Kirton’s favorite things to do these days. The veteran firefighter has been cancer-free for two years.

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“The CT scan came back great. She said there’s no indication I have any cancer at all, blood work looks clean,” said Kirton.

The CDC says firefighters have a higher risk of developing more than a dozen different cancers compared to the general population.  North Carolina law includes three types of cancer as an occupational disease, which qualifies for-line-of duty death benefits.

The new budget adds one cancer, but previous versions of the bill would have added six.

“There are so many exposures in the fire service, everything from the diesel from the truck, to the actual fire, to chemicals… That’s why that spectrum of the cancers is so important, you just don’t know which one you’re going to contract,” said Tim Bradley, executive director of the North Carolina State Firefighter’s Association.

Bradley has a collection of old helmets from his firefighting career throughout his office.

All of the helmets are scarred from exposure to fire after fire.

“It’s creating some concern among active firefighters that may look at changing from a long-term career to maybe a shorter-term career and moving into something else,” said Bradley.

Bradley and Kirton want legislators to do more about cancer in firefighting. They want a presumptive law, which would entitle firefighters with the disease to worker’s comp, disability, and paid medical expenses.

“We’re not going to have to worry about losing our house, or not being able to make our payments, or feed our family,” said Kirton of what it would be like to have a presumptive law.

At least 33 other states have presumptive laws on the books.

“We haven’t really seen any indication that North Carolina’s going to move forward presumptive cancer legislation,” said Bradley.

Until the help exists in North Carolina, Kirton will do his best to educate other firefighters about the risks of the job.

“I did win a battle with cancer, but there are other firefighters out there that are still not diagnosed yet,” said Kirton.

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