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Firefighters throughout Virginia participate in "Walk the Line" cancer walk

Firefighters are proposing a new workers compensation bill that will help protect them against certain cancers. (Christy Calcagno/WCYB)

Every day, Virginia’s firefighters face toxic environments and risk for occupational cancer.

Hundreds of firefighters across the state including two from our area join together now to raise awareness of hazardous risks they face on the job. They are here in Richmond to push for better workers compensation laws.

“This will hopefully drive home the point that we need to protect our service members throughout the commonwealth and protect us locally,” says Bristol, VA Battalion Chief Michael Wise.

For Drenna Whetzel, a mother of two who lost her husband to cancer says passing new legislation would help her family financially.

“You’re only as strong as the situation you’re in and I’m just doing what I can do for my family and my kids,” says Drenna Whetzel.

The walk started at Fire Station 13, about a mile from the State Capitol.

They walked to Capitol Square to propose bills to the Senate and House.

Last year, similar bills failed to make it out of the committee. The International Association of Firefighters again supports beefing up the worker's compensation law.

“Is it morally correct to cover a firefighter or a public safety officer who gives their life on the line on duty or is it all about the all mighty dollar?” asks Robert Bragg, President of Virginia Professional firefighters.

Representatives say the law currently denies some firefighters with cancer from getting the help they need. They want the law to expand the types of cancer covered. Currently those are limited.

“Hopefully this will drive home the point that we need some protection for our members across the commonwealth and we need protection from us locals,” says Wise.

The Association reports cancer caused 70 percent of the line-of-duty deaths for career firefighters in 2016.

It also says firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from it than the rest of the U.S. population.

In Bristol Virginia alone, in the last 20 years, there have been 12 cancer related diagnoses none covered by workman’s comp.

“We’re all brothers and we’re all family. I may have lost one brother. But I got tons, you look around here and I have tons of brothers here,” says Dustin Whetzel.

The bill has passed the House Commerce and Labor Subcommittee and will move to the House floor in the coming weeks.


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