Firefighters could get better benefits with new bill

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BOONE COUNTY - New legislation will help firefighters receive workers’ compensation. State Rep. Nick Schroer filed HB 1647 on Monday to ensure responders receive benefits for long-term illnesses like cancer and mental health issues. State Rep. Governor Eric Greitens voiced his support for the bill on Wednesday. Schroer hopes this bill will help acknowledge the risks first responders take.

“They answered the call for us, it is time we answer their call for help,” Schroer said in a Facebook post.

Assistant Chief Gale Blomenkamp of the Boone County Fire Protection District, said his department provides suitable compensation for its firefighters, and this bill would simply add another layer of protection for their benefits.

“It provides them a blanket of coverage, or security that says ‘you know what? I’m going to volunteer my time for my community. I’m going to do it for free, but yet I can still receive some benefit should a tragic event or an unfortunate sickness come upon them,’” Blomenkamp said.

The language in the bill specifically mentions coverage of cancers and mental health issues that developed because of occupational hazards. Blomenkamp said there is a big effort from stations nationwide to promote safety. He said better habits of decontaminating equipment and personnel after fighting flames help reduce the chance of getting sick.

“It’s not a badge of honor to have that dirty gear anymore,” Blomenkamp said.

According to the CDC, firefighters have a significantly higher chance of getting cancer than the rest of the population.

HB 1647 ensures benefits for career firefighters as well as volunteers.

“It really does protect the volunteers and 80% of the firefighters in this country are volunteers,” said Blomenkamp. “The Boone County Fire Protection District is the third largest fire department in the state of Missouri with about 220 or 240 volunteer firefighters, so it does mean something to us."