ST. LOUIS – Cancer has killed four St. Louis City Firefighters just this year. Today, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens said he believes there's a link between cancer rates, and the toxins firefighters are exposed to from smoke and burning buildings.
He's backing a bill that would give firefighters with cancer more access to workers compensation benefits. Two firefighter widows say the gubernatorial move is good news to the widows of these heroes.
Margie Griffin said her husband Marnell was so dedicated to fighting fires, he fought them in his mind as he laid dying.
“He said 'Get 804 and let them know it's a fire,'” Griffin said. “Those are the last words my husband spoke.”
Both Griffin and Tina Abell lost their firefighter husbands this year, not to burns or a blaze, but to cancer.
“He had a very rare cancer, CNS lymphoma,” said Abell.
And the widows said they are certain the disease was caused by fumes and chemicals from the fires their husbands fought.
“We all know it is from the job, it is from the job,”
And at today's press conference, Governor Eric Greitens agreed.
"There is a scientifically proven link between firefighters and cancer," Greitens said.
The study Greitens cited is from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. In fact, NIOSH and the CDC said there is only a “potential link,” but there is no questioning some of the findings.
“Firefighters have a much higher chance of getting mesothelioma and they are one-and-a-half times more likely to get Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma,” said Greitens.
The CDC and NIOSH report that the smoke firefighters inhale and burnt material left on their clothes contains increasing levels of cancer-causing material like asbestos.
“We know there is a connection the stuff that burns in your homes today is different than 10 years ago,” said Deputy Director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety Gregg Favre.
So Greitens said he's turning the tables on red tape, by supporting a bill that, if passed, should make it easier for firefighters to get Workers’ Compensation if they develop cancer. The bill creates a presumption that firefighters who develop certain cancers got them from their job.
Abell spoke of the questions insurance carriers asked of her husband. “You have cancer from the job tell me which fire it happened,” Abell said.
In other words, for firefighters to get Workers’ Compensation, they have the burden of proving it came from their work.
But for some, money isn't the issue.
“I don't expect to see a nickel, I am here for everyone else,” Abell said.
Abell said she is moving out of her house because of the financial burden her husband's illness caused
Griffin is just trying to get through the holidays.
“I just want you all to please, please support this bill,” she said while crying. It is really important to us.
Greitens also has the union on his side. The International Association of Firefighters also supports the governor's bill.
Over thirty states have already enacted similar legislation.