Should MI Firefighter Receive Comp for Cancer?

MI Firefighter

In May of 2009 a 16 year veteran of the Sterling Heights, MI Fire Department went to his doctor.  Being a firefighter he was obviously healthy and in shape, but he was feeling constantly tired and worn out.  By the end of that week Chris Slezak was diagnosed with leukemia and receiving chemotherapy.

Was this caused by 16 years of running into carcinogen filled burning buildings?  Slezak believes so.  Because there is no way to prove the cause of the cancer he does not qualify for WC under Michigan Law.

Lawmakers are trying to make a change of this.  Under a new bill recently approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee ski, brain, and kidney cancers are among those assumed cause by smoke and burning debris that firefighters encounter in the line of duty.  The only thing that will disqualify a firefighter is if they were a smoker within 10 years of their diagnosis.

The problem now becomes will counties and municipalities face the steep rise in WC premiums should the Senate floor approve this bill?  In most of the other 33 states that have enacted such a bill they have only seen roughly a 1% increase in premiums.

What are your opinions?  This should be more about fairness than money in my opinion.  These brave men and women run into buildings while everyone is running out.  The are public servants.  Most people who get into this line of work do not do it for the glory, or the money.  They do it because there is something inside them that says I was meant to look out for the members of my community.  They risk life and limb and should be compensated for injuries and illness received.  I for one agree with the bill and like the disclosure that if you were a smoker then you could have brought this on yourself.  Let’s not make the people that keep us safe suffer more than they should for putting themselves on the line for us.  This story in its entirety can be found on

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One Comment
  1. California has had presumptions for safety officers for years, and risk managers and claims adjusters will tell you presumptions can be the source of the most wasted and un-equitable dollars in the workers’ compensation system.

    We love our heroes and naturally want to take care of them when something happens. The problem is that the approach is usually not a balanced one, and the lack of coordination of benefits creates unjust enrichment (or “gift of public funds” if you will). In California, A fireman unable to return to his/her usual and customary duties is entitled to an industrial disability retirement, with 50% of the benefit being untaxed. There is no offset for the amount of permanent disability, which is also untaxed. The less scrupulous claimants also add in hypertension and other internal complaints, so the future medical costs to the WC file can end up including treatment for co-morbidities.

    The causation question is vexing, but something needs to be done to fix the 1%-exposure-100%-WC equation. In many communities, 95% of all fire department calls are medical, and do not involve running into burning buildings. Firefighters working 24-hour shifts have a lot of free time to engage in other activities away from work. With our advanced state of medicine in the US, there should be some way to accurately measure the extent to which a 5% exposure at work actually contributed to the condition.

    There are no easy answers, but here are a few thought-provoking links.

    Watch the YouTube video “A Fire Hero Gets Schooled”
    F-bomb version:

    See my article on safety presumptions in PRIMA’s magazine at

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