Another View: Firefighter families need change in law

Published: Saturday, Mar. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A

About two years ago, I was experiencing the kind of back pain that's relatively common for firefighters like myself.

But when the testing was all done, I got the shock of a lifetime. Multiple myeloma, an incurable blood and bone cancer, had eaten away at my vertebrae.

I'm 50 years old. If I'm lucky, I'll live another eight years. If I'm not, four years or less.

Nobody questions that the disease was job-related – not the doctors, and not my employer. Indeed, among the dozens of medical studies linking firefighting and cancer, multiple myeloma stands out as a particularly great risk.

Because of my personal experience, I was deeply disappointed by the editorial board's harsh and, in my view, misleading and unfair editorial on public safety survivor benefits ("Second life for death benefits giveaway," March 6).

Like most other cancer patients, I want to fight for every day of life.

Thanks to modern medical science, I can wage that battle longer than ever.

But because of a law passed in 1913, my wife could lose a modest survivor benefit if I live longer than 240 weeks. If I live "too long," she pays the penalty. All because of a law passed when cigarette smoking was considered "healthy."

Assembly Bill 1373 by Speaker John A. Pérez modifies this archaic "death clock" to reflect the times and advances in medical research. Contrary to The Bee editorial's depiction, the bill is modest and humane, with numerous safeguards to narrow its impact. It's designed to do a simple thing: Take away the penalty for those relatively few cases where the fight for life outlasts an arbitrary time limit.

While it's significant enough to make a difference, the survivor benefit is far from "lavish" and is hardly a "perk."

As a firefighter, the threat of death is part of the job, whether in an instant or from job-related illness. Survivor benefits offer the reassurance that, if the worst happens, our families won't face deprivation.

The Bee's editorial board recites claims by city and county government groups that this measure will cost "hundreds of millions" of dollars. But so far, there's no credible fiscal data to back up that claim. None. It's just political spin.

Sometime in the future, the doctors say my treatment options will run out.

Until that happens, I want to fight for life. This bill lets me wage that fight without penalizing my loved ones.

Dan Hinshaw worked 26 years for the Modesto Fire Department, retiring in 2012 as a battalion chief.

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