On December 10, 2012, the Assembly heard testimony and voted in favor of S569, Thomas P. Canzanella Twenty First Century First Responders Protection Act. Named for the Deputy Chief of the Hackensack Fire Department and President of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey, the Bill would extend protections to First Responders by creating rebuttable presumptions that exposures to known carcinogens, pathogens, biological toxins as well as serious communicable diseases are considered work related thereby shifting the burden of proof of the employer to show that these conditions were not a part of the employment. Such a Bill would make it easier for first Responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
The Bill is wide ranging in scope covering both paid and volunteer police and firemen, state police, first aide and rescue, nurses, medical technician, correctional facility employees and other medical personnel. It would require clear and convincing proof that conditions such as exposure to hazardous chemicals or known carcinogens or pathogens are not related to the employment in order to relieve the employer of responsibility for these conditions.
Specifically for firefighters there would be a presumption to that a firefighter who was on the job five or more years who develops cancer, would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Given the growing evidence that firefighters risk exposure to known carcinogens, this Bill represents a welcome recognition of those risks. It would also ensure that public safety workers and medical personnel who receive small pox or other vaccinations voluntarily in response to an actual or threatened bioterrorism or epidemic would be covered for any illness caused by those vaccinations. Passage of this legislation places New Jersey among 24 other states that grants firefighters a presumption in the event that they contract cancer.