COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For the past year we have been following firefighters diagnosed with cancer in a series called the Fighting 126.
In January of 2017, firefighters learned they could get workers’ compensation based on the presumption that their cancer was caused by their job. A few months later, the law was changed.
Also last year, NBC4 talked to Jason Vincent who was battling a rare cancer in his lungs, which is mostly seen in children.
Since then, he has been given the “all clear,” moved to a new home, and is feeling well. Now, the 20-year veteran of the Columbus Division of Fire is fighting a new battle, for his benefits.
“Things have been going really good for us. We had a tough year last year, and things are going well this year,” said Vincent in his new Granville home.
After 110 nights in the the James Cancer Hospital at the Ohio State University, chemo, and lung surgery, his hair has grown back and Vincent is where he wants to be.
“So far so good,” he said.
With cancer behind him, a new battle is front and center.
“It is frustrating when you hear you are going to be taken care of; your wife is going to be taken care of, and they don’t come through.”
The firefighter cancer bill, celebrated by lawmakers and firefighters, originally presumed a firefighter got sick because of the job and that they would be compensated for it.
Months later, in a change during budget negotiations, the tables turned.
“Burden of proof was going to be on the city to prove that my cancer was not related to fire fighting,” said Vincent.
With the law change, it’s up to Vincent to prove his cancer was caused by firefighting.
“I felt it was too generous and the implications would be astronomical.” said State Representative Tom Brinkman (R).
He said the original bill was too expensive for local governments.
However, he said if a firefighter doesn’t have a history of risky behaviors like smoking, tanning, or doing drugs, they should still get their benefits.
“They shouldn’t be turned down then. If they weren’t engaging in those behaviors then the presumption is that it was caused because of their being a firemen then it should sale right on through,” said Brinkman.
The city denied Vincent’s claim twice and he and his attorney are fighting for a third hearing.
“I’m a non-smoker and I lost 60 percent of my lung and went through six months of chemo and they say it wasn’t caused by firefighting. It’s frustrating,” said Vincent.
He said the hardest part has been listing to the argument against him. “Some of the things you hear the city say as far as ‘the fire department doesn’t keep record on what you do day to day, so we really don’t know how many fires you have been in, have you really been exposed to as much as you say.”
Despite what he has been through and the battle he is in now, Vincent said he wouldn’t take back his career in the fire service but has advice for future firefighters.
“They will try to find any chink in your armor that you have done wrong to deny your claim. I didn’t have any and they still denied mine. It might not help you with the city but It might keep you from going through what I went through with the cancer.”
In a statement from Columbus’s Department of Employment Benefits and Risk Management, Cressida Boley, writes:
The City has been notified of a number of firefighter cancer claims that have been filed listing the City as the employer. The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC), not the City, makes the initial determination to allow or deny a claim (the BWC has denied a number of firefighter cancer claims that lists the City as the employer). The City reviews all firefighter cancer claims on a case by case basis because no 2 claims are exactly alike. In each claim, the City requests medical records from the individual’s medical providers to determine if the City will challenge a BWC allowed claim. In instances when the BWC has allowed a claim prior to the time the City has obtained the individual’s medical records, the City has appealed the allowance of the claim to enable the City to receive and evaluate the medical records. The City’s decision to challenge a firefighter’s cancer claim is based upon a number of factors, including but not limited to, the individual’s risk factors (i.e., tobacco use, lifestyle choices and family history of cancer), the individual’s medical history and the type of cancer involved.”