It boils down to money vs. morals’: March to pass bill expanding VA firefighter coverage of cancer

Published: Jan. 15, 2019 at 6:44 PM EST
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Hundreds of firefighters from across Virginia marched to the Capitol, Tuesday, urging legislators to approve a bill that could save their families from the financial crisis if they fall victim to their biggest killer, cancer.

House Bill 1804 (Senate Bill 1030) would add brain, colon and testicular cancer to the list of cancers covered by workers compensation for Virginia firefighters. It would also ease tight restrictions that cause many firefighters to be denied coverage.

Martha Creasy led the march, continuing the effort started in part by her husband, beloved Richmond Fire Marshal Chief David Creasy. The 50-year veteran of the fire service passed in October, but “Chico’s” legacy could be felt everywhere.

"He’s channeling through all of us today,” said Martha, as she clutched a picture of her husband, walking in front of a procession of more than 500 people.

Firefighters, their children and supporters marched to save their families from financial crisis, if they become stricken with cancer. Chief Creasy’s family spent thousands of dollars a month because his stomach cancer wasn’t covered under the state worker’s comp for firefighters. At times, they debated whether to even continue treatment.

"Cancer is something that is taking away our firefighters on a daily basis, and we need to give them more protection,” said Martha Creasy.

Seventeen-year Richmond Fire Department veteran firefighter Mark Owens was diagnosed with kidney cancer, after a fall on the job prompted a visit to VCU Medical Center.

"They transported me to VCU and during the scan, they found renal carcinoma on my kidney," said Owens.

Doctors removed Owens’ entire kidney. He says he’s clear for now, but the cancer has a 50 percent chance of recurring. While Owens says he remains positive, the list of firefighters he knows stricken with cancer, continues to grow.

"Honestly, I've lost count,” said Owens.

Career Stafford firefighter Steve Weissman was diagnosed with prostate cancer four years ago, after dedicating 40 years to the fire service, beginning in Fairfax.

"One of my biggest fears was how to tell my family that I was diagnosed with cancer,” said Weissman.

He was forced to support his family without worker’s compensation. His claim was denied after years of fighting the system.

"I served the Commonwealth of Virginia for almost 40 years as a firefighter, and never in my wildest dreams would I expect the Commonwealth of Virginia to let me down,” said Weissman.

Firefighters are at double the risk of developing certain types of cancers. They’re exposed to countless toxic chemicals, plastics and synthetics, which weren’t present decades ago. The toxins seep into their skin, causing different forms of cancer after years of exposure.

If a firefighter is diagnosed with cancer, they're handed a list of hundreds of chemicals and told to prove which ones were the exact cause of their cancer. If they can't, which supporters say is impossible, they get no compensation.

“That’s a whole lot of strain on a firefighter to go back on a career of over 25 years and identify everything he's been exposed to,” said Robert Bragg, president of Virginia Professional Fire Fighters.

House Bill 1804 (Senate Bill 1030) would change this, and the course for firefighters battling for their lives and families.

"Right now, he’s applauding and jumping up and down, I’m sure,” said Martha Creasy. "This is the third time the bill has been proposed in the General Assembly. It wasn’t passed the last two years.

“It boils down to money versus morals,” said Bragg. “Is it morally correct to cover a firefighter or public safety officer who gives their life in the line of duty, or is it all about the almighty dollar?”

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