The Fighting 126: Firefighters continue fight for benefits

The Fighting 126

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Nearly one year after Governor John Kasich signed a bill into law that recognizes cancer as a work related illness for firefighters, some are still fighting for their benefits. Since the law was passed it has changed from presuming a firefighters cancer was caused by the job, to making the patient prove it.

Mark Rine has been a vocal advocate in the fight for cancer benefits. The Columbus firefighter was diagnosed with terminal cancer in his early 30’s. Six years later and he’s not only fighting for his own life, but fighting for others going through the same thing and urging them not to give up.  “We want to matter. To all of us, See our city, our townships they matter. So what is it worth?” Mark Rine is talking about the worth of a firefighters life.

One year after celebrating the passing of a law acknowledging a link between cancer and fighting fires, those diagnosed are back to battling for their benefits with their employers. “We have multiple guys.. 25 year veterans whose entities, townships are spending 10s of thousands of dollars to basically deny them.”

Mark Rine was one of those firefighters. His claim was approved by the BWC and then denied by his employer, the city of Columbus, because he hadn’t served a full six years with the fire department before being diagnosed with cancer. It’s one of the reasons the law states a claim can be denied.  “Once I started hearing how many people were filing and being denied I just couldn’t leave them so I filed my claim and joined the fight.” In December, the city approved his claim.

A new stipulation added to the law seven months after it was passed, gives employers the ability to use medical and scientific evidence to prove the firefighters cancer may not have been caused by the job. State Representative Tom Brinkman told us he was against the original bill, stating it cost local townships and municipalities too much money.  “I felt it was too generous and the implications would be astronomical on what they would have to pay in to workers’ comp.” Brinkman, who is based in Cincinnati, said he hasn’t heard of Cincinnati firefighters claims being denied by their employers. He tells NBC4 if a firefighter hasn’t engaged in risky behavior like smoking, using illegal drugs, or tanning beds then they should be awarded their workers compensation benefits.

Firefighters in Columbus say that isn’t happening.

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.”

Representative Brinkman says he’d like to see the law change even more to include language stating firefighters should prove they wear their protective equipment regularly. Now some firefighters are upset, calling the bill a political stunt. Brinkman says he believes the original bill was “the real deal” and that the lawmakers who pushed it through wanted it to stay in the original form.  “I’m sorry if they high fived everybody and went home and thought it was going to stay that way. It’s called the Ohio revised code because we revise it all of the time.”

These changes have made Mark Rine worry that other firefighters would rather back down and not file a claim, rather than fight for what they thought would be presumptive coverage. “What is the word presumptive mean? It is presumed that it occurred “because of.” Yet, here we are and we are going to argue left and right that that is not what it is. And that is was it’s called.”

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