About 125 people, many of them firefighters from around the state, were part of an audience here Thursday who witnessed Gov. Nathan Deal sign House Bill 146, also known as the firefighter cancer insurance bill.Sitting at Deal’s side was Gilmer County firefighter Brian Scudder, who at one time was diagnosed with the “last stage” of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, stage 4-B, that his doctors say he contracted from his work battling fires.
“It was in my neck and in my stomach, the last stage,” said Scudder, who did not speak Thursday but related in a February story in the Times-Courier. “I had to go through 18 months of chemotherapy.”
What Scudder found, said House Speaker David Ralston at the signing ceremony in the fire truck bays of county Fire Station No. 1, was that his workman’s compensation insurance did not foot the bills he was facing.
“He didn’t ask for a handout, he asked for what was fair for those who will come after him,” Ralston said. “He didn’t want other firefighters and their families to suffer financial hardship while they were trying to beat cancer … the workman’s comp system had no method for dealing with this sort of diagnosis.
“(The bill) requires Georgia companies to provide insurance for our firefighters for certain types of cancer. The firefighter can skip the process of litigating workman’s comp claims. This will allow the firefighter to focus on getting better and recovering rather than having to worry about legal bills, depositions and hearings. This is an innovative solution to provide firefighters and their families peace of mind.”
Ralston called the bill signing “appropriate” because the bill was “born in this building.”
Scudder, an 18-year firefighting veteran, said the 18 months of chemo treatments have worked. He missed only two shifts of work during his treatments, and then poured himself into advocating for the bill in the General Assembly.
Deal called the bill “a great solution to the situation.”
“We’ve wrestled with this, all of us have,” he said of cancer’s impact on families, “but I believe this provides the kind of relief to firefighters who need it, and I am pleased to be able to sign it here … it will provide compensation and money for the treatment and care of firefighters who have contracted cancers that are related to their work, and the carcinogens and the other things that are found in fires that are hazardous to their health. They will have coverage for that.”
Deal mentioned firefighters and General Assembly members who worked on the bill, then singled out one legislator.
“When things get bogged down, he has the ability and the desire and the fortitude to be able to get them moving again,” he said of Ralston, then spoke to the firefighters in attendance. “You protect property and the lives of Georgia citizens, and there’s nothing much higher than that in the calling of public service than what you do … this is one way we can recognize your service and try to find some security that you and your family will need in the event you contract cancer as a result of your employment.
Ralston noted some legislators had traveled from “from all over Georgia to be here today.”
“GMA (Georgia Municipal Association) worked with us to find a solution, and Gov. Deal and his staff sat down with us and helped us to move the bill forward … many members of the General Assembly worked long hours to make it happen,” he said. “Brian took care of this family, and scheduled his cancer treatments around his work. He wanted to help other firefighters.”
Scudder, who knows HB 146 front and back, pointed out the bill allots $25,000 through an insurance policy for medical costs, and for severe cases where a firefighter has “six months off the fire truck,” there’s a long-term disability clause that gives them 60 percent of their salary up to $5,000.
“So it seems to be pretty good,” Scudder said of the bill. “When I was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t turn in a workman’s comp claim for it. It’d be the same thing as if you got the flu. It’s just not accepted.”
To read the original article in The Dalton Citizen, click HERE.