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Firefighters rally at state Capitol, pushing for promised cancer coverage

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

More than 200 firefighters rallied at the state Capitol in Lansing today.

They're pushing hard to finally win the cancer coverage the state promised them more than a year ago.

That’s when the Legislature created a first responder’s fund for firefighters who get job-related cancer – except, lawmakers never put any money in that fund.

Since then, the state union says at least 8 firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer, one of whom died last month.  

Speaking to a crowd of firefighters from across the state, Lansing Fire Captain Eric Weber described being diagnosed with leukemia himself just a few years ago.

"Let's not let one more firefighters be diagnosed without funding for them and their families!”

Credit Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

The firefighters continued lobbying inside the statehouse too, overflowing the gallery, with dozens waiting in the Capitol lobby as the state Senate first huddled in a caucus, then appeared to stall completely.

And finally, the Senate came together with word of a tentative deal: the Senate Appropriations Committee would vote next week to approve $1 million for the first responders' fund for this year, and would consider backing a $3 million appropriation for the fund in next year’s budget.

Of course, none of that is certain yet – and there’s not much sense of how the House will respond.

And firefighters, while glad to see some small progress come out of this lobbying, aren’t taking anything for granted. After all, they’ve been told this was a done deal before.

So Sterling Heights firefighter John Farah says they’re not going anywhere.

“The cancer’s not going away,” he says. “We’re still going into buildings that are giving us the cancer. We can’t prevent the smoke from going through our gear. And we accept that, we took an oath for that. But we need to be covered, just like any other on-the-job injury. And we’re not going to stop pursuing it.”

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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