Firefighters with cancer fight for L&I benefits



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Posted on June 25, 2014 at 7:12 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 25 at 7:47 PM

BONNEY LAKE, Wash. -- Despite the growing cancer risk among firefighters, help from the state to cover the cost may not be keeping pace.

A lot has changed in the 35 years Paul Brady was a firefighter.

“My very first fire was July 4, 1979. Nobody’s wearing masks here,” said Brady.

No masks, no problem - or so they thought.

“People didn’t realize all the carcinogens we inhaled were going to cause problems,” recalled Brady.

Firefighters’ protective gear has since changed. How they fight fires has changed. But two year ago, Brady changed too.

“I found a lump on my neck.”

It was cancer - squamous cell carcinoma—on the base of Brady’s tongue.

“I was bolted down to the table with a radiation machine with a mask on.”

Chemo and 35 days of radiation followed. The treatment was torture.

“I laid in bed a lot of times and wished I was dead. I really did,” Brady said. “And there are only a few reasons I got up. I’ve got grandkids and kids I thought of and that’s what made me get up and go do it.”

Brady was convinced all those years of inhaling all those chemicals fighting fires caused his cancer. And at least two of his doctors agreed. Brady tried three times to receive L&I benefits. Three times he was denied. The reason: his cancer is not on the list of what the state considers a job-related illness. Something he and a lot of firefighters with cancer want changed.

Six cancers related to firefighting are on the presumptive cancer list, as it’s called, including esophageal cancer. But adding to that list won’t be easy. It is an expensive and risky legal fight. With state and many city budgets still in the red, for now at least, money may be trumping medicine. And for Paul Brady—that’s a tough pill to swallow.

“We’re on the frontlines and putting our life on the line for them I think it’d be great to have a little help.”