Thanks to the hard work of the Professional Fire Fighters Association of South Carolina (PFFASC), South Carolina members now have healthcare protections and a line-of-duty death benefit for occupational cancer.

During a special October 14 ceremony at the South Carolina State Fire Academy in Columbia, Governor Henry McMaster signed the legislation. Joining McMaster at the ceremony were 12th District Vice President Walt Dix, PFFASC President Roger Odachowski, PFFASC President Bill Pesature, North Myrtle Beach Local 4637 President Josh Beck, Charleston Local 61 President Steven Azzarella, Columbia Local 793 President Victor Kemper, Midway Local 3617 President Justin Lenker, Irmo Local 5271 President David Silva, Lexington County Local 4529 President Rollin Reynolds and South Carolina members.

“Our South Carolina leaders faced tough odds as they fought to establish protections for our members diagnosed with cancer,” says General President Harold Schaitberger. “But they didn’t back down until the job was done. I am very proud of the incredible work they have done.”

H 5139/S 1071, the Firefighter Cancer Health Care Benefit Plan, calls for a one-time payment of $20,000 per cancer diagnosis and a healthcare benefit of up to $12,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses. Additionally, the legislation also calls for a $75,000 line-of-duty death benefit for the families of fire fighters who die as a result of occupational cancer.

“This truly is an historic moment for our South Carolina members,” says 12th District Vice President Walt Dix. “In a state that does not allow collective bargaining, our PFFASC leaders successfully lobbied for protections for not just some cancers, but all cancers. I am very proud of their accomplishments.”

“We knew the odds were against us when we started this fight,” says PFFASC President Roger Odachowski. “But our members are exposed to carcinogens every day, so we felt it was critical to keep fighting for this benefit.”

The fight to pass this legislation began more than three years ago. Knowing the political climate in South Carolina would make the effort difficult at best, PFFASC President Odachowski reached out to other state affiliate presidents for advice on legislation language and strategy.

Additionally, the SCPFFA asked for the support of other fire service groups in the state, including the chiefs and volunteers.

The new benefit is funded by the one percent fund, a one percent tax collected on all fire insurance premiums written in the state. The fund provides dollars for various fire service resources, including apparatus, fire station construction and upkeep and training. Any remaining funds can be used for other fire service-related needs, including this benefit.

The bill received final approval in the state legislature on September 23 and Governor Henry McMaster signed the legislation on September 28 to make state-mandated signing deadlines. But

the governor scheduled a special signing ceremony to acknowledge the importance of the bill and to honor the hard work of the fire fighters who advocated for the bill’s passage.