Gov. McMaster signs bill giving state-sponsored health benefits to firefighters battling cancer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — After serving their communities in times of crisis, firefighters have one more team in their corner: the state of South Carolina. 

Governor Henry McMaster (R-SC) signed a bill Wednesday morning that would give firefighters state-sponsored health benefits if they get cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says firefighters are nine times more likely than the average person to contract cancer and are 14 percent more likely to die from cancer.

At the State’s Fire Training Academy in Columbia, Gov. McMaster signed Senate Bill 1071 into law, which would provide thousands to help firefighters and their families fight mounting expenses against cancer.

“Without them doing what they do unselfishly everyday, we can not prosper. That is why it is so important that we honor those who make this possible for the rest of us, that we honor them to see that they’re well paid, they’re well-trained, and that they’re cared for physically,” Gov. McMaster said Wednesday.

Senate Bill 1071 was sponsored by Sen. Thomas Alexander (R-Oconee Co.), and co-sponsored by a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers. The bill passed the House with a vote of 108-1 on September 22, and an amended version passed the Senate unanimously the next day.

The plan would entitle firefighters to a $12,000 annual payment for out-of-pocket medical expenses, a one-time benefit of $20,000 upon diagnosis, and a $75,000 death benefit for a firefighter who dies from cancer.

Assistant Fire Chief Tracy Williams of the Westview-Fairforest Fire Department in Spartanburg, who has battled cancer, says this bill will save many lives and help several families. 

“We all have reached a milestone to make South Carolina’s current firefighters and future firefighters more aware of occupational cancer dangers by education, prevention, and training,” Assistant Chief Williams said.

Fire departments across the state have been stepping up efforts to educate firefighters about risks associated with cancer when they respond to a scene. Some have been changing gear between shifts, and taking training courses about cancerous risks on the job.

Newberry Fire Chief Keith Minick, who is also the President of the South Carolina State Firefighters’ Association, told ABC Columbia News that this bill creates a brighter future for firefighters. 

“Especially from a recruitment standpoint of getting into a hazardous job as a professional firefighter, for paid and unpaid firefighters alike, this support is very much needed to help pass that message that we’re here to protect our firefighters in a dangerous job,” Minick said. 

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