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Deal will give firefighters help in fight vs. cancer

Deal will give firefighters help in fight vs. cancer

Deal will give firefighters help in fight vs. cancer



June 3, 2023

HARTFORD – Local leaders and firefighter organizations say they have reached a compromise on providing essential benefits for firefighters and their families dealing with work-related cancers.

The agreement that was announced Saturday will offer firefighters battling cancer and their dependents the same level of benefits through the existing Firefighters Cancer Relief Fund they receive via workers’ compensation.

The announcement from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and Uniformed Professional Fire Fighters Association of Connecticut provides little details of the deal other than the benefits will be comparable to workers’ compensation and the state will pay the cost.

In a joint statement, Joe DeLong, executive director and CEO of CCM, and Peter Brown, president of the UPFFA of Connecticut, called the agreement a sustainable solution that resolves the concerns of local governments and firefighters.

Time is tight, though. The legislative session ends Wednesday at midnight. Legislation will have to make it through both the House and the Senate in the final three days.

The Firefighters Cancer Relief Fund was established in 2016 to provide up to two years of replacement wages to career and volunteer firefighters diagnosed with certain cancers during their treatment. It was meant to resolve a years-long stalemate over how to take care of firefighters who develop work-related cancers.

However, the well-intentioned relief fund has not worked out as planned. Funding has been a problem. The initial funding plan had to be scrapped after running afoul of federal law. Token appropriations were made on an annual basis while other funding options were explored. In that time, the cancer relief fund built up a balance of $2.4 million.

Lawmakers approved a new funding mechanism last year that requires towns and cities to contribute $10 for each covered volunteer or paid firefighter with five years of service. But those contributions to the cancer relief fund do not start until Jan. 1, 2024, and it is unclear how much that assessment will raise. The annual amounts will depend on the number of paid and volunteer firefighters for a particular year.

Another shortcoming for firefighters is wage replacement benefits are lacking compared to workers’ compensation benefits. Only two firefighters have been approved since a five-year wait meant to build up the cancer relief fund ended last year.

Unlike workers’ compensation, there is no medical or disability coverage and, more importantly for firefighters, no survivor benefits. Firefighters receive replacement wages and remain entitled to employer-provided accident, health and life insurance coverage while they are receiving wage replacement benefits. There is a 24-month limit on the wage replacement benefits.

Frustrated firefighter organizations pushed legislators to rewrite state law to drop the current requirement that a firefighter prove cancer is work-related to make it easier to receive workers’ compensation benefits. Towns and cities opposed shifting the burden on municipalities to rebut a firefighter’s job-related cancer claim.

The compromise outlined Saturday will have the state pay for the expanded benefits package. This pleases towns and cities because it means there will be no workers’ compensation payments funded through property taxes. The good news for firefighters is they will receive the benefits they have long sought while avoiding the drawn-out workers’ compensation process.