Some Arizona Cities Denying Firefighters' Cancer Claims
MARK BRODIE: Earlier this year, firefighters across Arizona came forward with stories of workers' compensation claims that had been denied, despite a state law that presumes certain forms of cancer are a result of their workplace conditions. Those conditions, of course, include burning buildings filled with toxins that have been known to cause cancer. State Sen. Paul Boyer (R-Phoenix) introduced a bill in 2017 to expand the list of diseases that should be covered. But now, two years later, he's still trying to figure out why the law is not having the results he expected. Sen. Boyer joins me, let me ask, first off, where are we right now on this issue?
PAUL BOYER: We're at now, with some cities, thankfully, like Mesa and Phoenix, that are covering these guys when they get cancer on a job, moving forward. But other cities like Glendale, Tempe, Casa Grande and others throughout the state, that are systematically denying firefighters claims, when they get cancer on the job.
BRODIE: Do you have a sense as to why that is?
BOYER: They told me, I've been meeting with mayors across the state, and they tell me it's too expensive.
BRODIE: Really, it's just a fiscal issue?
BOYER: Exactly. And, here's the deal though, it's the law, just so, they can't pick and choose what laws they choose to enforce. And, so it's egregious that they're just flaunting the law, in the way that they are. Especially, given that the A.G. has come out, the Attorney General who's the arbiter of all state laws, and says that he agrees with us.
BRODIE: Well, how do those conversations go? I mean, you are a lawmaker and in fact helped pass a law dealing with this. How do those conversations go with you when the cities say, look we just can't afford it even though it is the law?
BOYER: Well, in the case of Glendale they just decided not to show up. So we had a meeting on the books for about two weeks and at the last minute, Jerry Weiers and the city manager, the city attorney, they just bailed on me.
BRODIE: No idea why?
BOYER: They just said through my assistant, the lobbyist called and said that they're canceling the meeting and they're uninterested in meeting with me, moving forward. Then I get a lengthy letter from their city attorney, with which they believe based on some technicality, that they don't have to abide by the law.
BRODIE: Well, so what do you think is next? And, you mentioned that the Attorney General, Mark Brnovich, has said that he agrees with you. Is this something that he has expressed an interest or a willingness to look into?
BOYER: Oh, absolutely. I met with; when I found out that cities weren't abiding by the law, gosh, about six months back I had met with his staff and then they've been investigating the matter ever since. And, then he issued a letter to the League of Cities and Towns saying, it was more of a friendly, hey by the way, in case you didn't know this, the legislature passed a law that says that if a firefighter gets cancer on the job and they fulfill certain criteria, that it is presumed that they've got it on the job. Whereas now, you have cities that are acting as if the presumption doesn't exist. They're acting as if the burden of proof is on the firefighter to prove that they got cancer on the job, when the burden is actually shifted to the employer.
BRODIE: Do you get the sense that the Attorney General might be looking to file suit on this issue?
BOYER: I think that all options are on the table, that's something that we haven't talked about yet, just because I'm hoping that cities will do the right thing and follow the law and honestly do the moral thing. I mean, protect these guys that have given their lives for the city. For example, there's one firefighter in Glendale and he's giving me permission to share his story, Captain Kevin Thompson, he has multiple myeloma and that's one of the listed cancers that is in these statutes. He's been working for the city for 27 years, given his life, given his... talents, put his life on the line every single day and now this city is saying, oh yeah we don't believe that you got cancer on the job, in fact the city attorney and the city manager told the fire chief, they told him they said we don't believe that fires cause cancer, everybody gets cancer.
BOYER: Right. So, my question to them is what scientific evidence are they basing it off of? Because we have all of the evidence that says that it does. In the old days, you know, you mostly had wood and natural products. Today, there's plastics, petroleum's and there's so many toxins that are in today's structures and also in the materials; that's why I think we're seeing firefighters, who at a much younger age and also at a much higher rate than the general public, are getting cancer. And so it's beholden on us, to not only protect them and to treat them and to pay for them when they do get cancer but also what can we do moving forward. And so, I'm actually working on a hot committee to talk about what can we do to mitigate cancer for firefighters moving forward.
BRODIE: So, you mentioned that all options are on the table, I mean, have you thought about, yourself, filing a complaint under the state law that allows legislators to ask the A.G. to look into whether cities are complying with state law?
BOYER: I'm very seriously considering that.
BRODIE: Is there any consideration given to, maybe, having the state allocate some money for this? I mean, the cities are saying that they are not doing it because they can't afford it, in many cases. Is this the kind of thing that, you think, the state might have to chip in some money so that cities actually do this?
BOYER: That's something that we've talked about for next session but I need to know real numbers. Because, quite often, what you'll see is a city will come up with an average, they'll take the most expensive case and they'll make that the average. However though, you'll have cities like Glendale, that are giving away $50 million in a tax break to, or give away to the Arizona Cardinals for a parking structure. And then meanwhile, they're calling a special city council session to give themselves a pay raise but yet they can't somehow afford to protect their heroes that protect us every single day? I mean, honestly, it's a pittance in comparison to what they're giving away.
BRODIE: All right, that is Arizona State Sen. Paul Boyer. Sen. Boyer thanks a lot for your time, I appreciate it.
BOYER: Oh, thank you.