Firefighters Give Demonstration, Fight for Increased Health Coverage

For professional firefighters, a small controlled blaze on the second floor of a training house isn’t a big deal at all.

"This is very, very controlled because we have to keep it safe to operate, while at the same time giving the appearance of an actual structure fire with the smoke and the heat," explained Waterbury Deputy Fire Chief Rick Hart, who is also director of government relations for the Uniformed Professional Firefighters Association of Connecticut.

Several members of the media, lobbyists, and members of the General Assembly were invited to participate in FireOps 101, a training course that provides a snapshot of what firefighters do on a regular basis.

"We simulate cutting a hole in a roof to doing search and rescue, forcible entry to get into the building, stretching a hose line and actually putting the fire out," Hart said.

The fire inside the house was around 500 degrees – not too hot, according to firefighters from Hartford, Waterbury and New London, just three of the departments represented at the Hartford Fire Department Training Academy on Monday.

The event was part of the UPFAC’s effort to raise awareness of cancer in firefighters. The group also wanted to call attention to legislation that would provide additional cancer coverage for firefighters.

“We have increased risk for skin, tesiticular, colon and all other types of cancers purely because of the job we do every day," Hart said.

During fires, carcinogens burn in the air and come from chemicals embedded in common household items, like appliances and pieces of furniture.

Firefighters wear hoods that block carcinogens from getting on to their skin, but it’s not a silver bullet to protect against exposure.

Critics of the legislation have said potentially millions more in health coverage for firefighters could cripple local town and city budgets. In addition, concerns have been raised about potential for fraud in the system.

To Hart, who’s met with lawmakers for weeks on the issue, the peace of mind that additional coverage would bring firefighters would be without measure.

"That we have the protection, that yes, we're going to get treatment, yes, we're going to have coverage for our families, so that we do not go without a paycheck if we're out of work for two, three, four months, not collecting a paycheck if we do not have the time," he explained.

The Labor Committee already approved the legislation, which is expected to reach the House floor during the legislative session.

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