Gov. Ned Lamont talks about firefighter bill (Courtesy of CT-N)

(Updated) Gov. Ned Lamont celebrated Wednesday a groundbreaking new law designed to make it easier for firefighters diagnosed with cancer to receive benefits. The new law will go into effect on Oct. 1, 2023.

Approved as part of the state’s recently enacted budget bill, the law aims to streamline the process for claims related to cancer diagnoses among firefighters.

The legislation creates a presumption that any cancer diagnosis a firefighter receives is the result of their hazardous occupation, unless proven otherwise. This shift will make it harder for these claims to be denied. The law is applicable to all uniformed members of paid municipal, state, or volunteer fire departments, as well as local fire marshals, deputy fire marshals, fire investigators, fire inspectors, and other types of inspectors and investigators.

Peter Brown, president of the Uniformed Professional Firefighters Association of Connecticut, said 75% of firefighter deaths in the United States are related to occupational cancer.

Brown said they’ve been fighting for this legislation for over a decade.

Majority Leader Bob Duff said over the past year he’s been to wakes of two Norwalk firefighters who died of cancer.

“They were both young and they died because they were firefighters,” Duff said. “Because of the risk that they took for the public.”

He said it was incumbent upon the legislature to acknowledge the dangers of their job.

“This is a show of respect,” Lamont said.He said 9/11 was a bit of a wake up call that firefighters were running into the building and then dying of cancer years later.

“Firefighting is an incredibly dangerous occupation,” Lamont said. “This law ensures that we are taking the necessary steps to protect these brave men and women just as they protect us.”

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said this legislation deserves to be recognized because these firefighters go to buildings on fire with chemicals which they know will have a long-lasting impact on their lives.

However, there’s more work that needs to be done, according to Osten.

“We need to make sure we are funding it appropriately so those families that are left behind will get the support they need and I stand committed to do that,” Osten said.

To qualify, firefighters must have been diagnosed with cancer affecting various bodily systems including the brain, skeletal, and digestive systems, among others. They must also have undergone a physical exam that did not indicate a predisposition for cancer and must have abstained from cigarette use for at least 15 years prior to the diagnosis. Additionally, the firefighter must have at least five years of service and have undergone annual medical screenings.

“After many years, we’re finally taking responsibility as a community and as a state. We expect firefighters to protect our homes and families, yet we’ve never been willing to protect them when they got sick. That ends now,” Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said.

Eric George, president of the Insurance Association of Connecticut, said it’s not technically workers’ compensation even though it’s been called that by policymakers.

“The legislation that was enacted allows firefighters, who have been diagnosed with cancer, to apply for wage replacement benefits through the state-run firefighters cancer relief account,” George said. “And while this wage replacement claims process will be administered through the CT Workers’ Compensation Commission and benefits will be similar to workers’ compensation benefits, this program is separate, distinct and not a part of the workers’ compensation insurance system.”

The legislation received overwhelming support, passing the Senate with a 35 to 1 vote and clearing the House of Representatives with a 139 to 12 vote.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect it’s not a workers’ compensation program.