Rep. Tony Exum Sr. knows too well the cancer risks a firefighter takes in the flames and fumes, as well as the financial devastation a cancer diagnosis can take.
He worked for nearly 36 years as a Colorado Springs firefighter. Exum watched watched fellow first-responders wither away under a state law passed in 2007 that lumped firefighters’ cancer insurance in with their workers’ compensation policy.
Long delays in proving a cancer was the result of work meant people died and their families were often left in financial ruin, Exum said.
“This is a very important piece of legislation to help reduce the time it takes to get needed help for firefighters all over the state,” he told a House committee last month.
That made Senate Bill 214 pretty personal for Exum. And as did as a firefighter, he likely helped save some lives by getting the bill to the governor’s desk Thursday.
The new law creates a voluntary health trust fund firefighters can voluntarily pay into for benefits with they’re sick and help their families if they die up to $225,000 and up to $25,000 for vocational rehabilitation or cosmetic needs resulting from cancer.
The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and introduced in the Senate by Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker.
The coverage also could lower rates for workers’ compensation insurance for other firefighters, Pettersen said.
The bill passed both chambers unanimously.
Exum and Pettersen also are co-sponsoring House Bill 1278 to extend the Local Firefighter Safety and Diseases Prevention Fund, a grant fund that helps local governments and volunteer fire departments pay for equipment and training to promote safety and reduce occupational illnesses.
The program was created in 2014 and was set to expire this year. The bill would extend it three more years. The grants are paid for from the state tax on insurance premiums.
The bill is scheduled to be debated on the House floor Friday, and then must pass a second vote on Monday to get to the Senate to be voted in at least one committee then two votes on the Senate floor before the legislature adjourns on Wednesday by midnight.