SC Firefighter Cancer Health Care Benefit Plan gives out nearly $1 million in first year

Published: Oct. 17, 2022 at 11:16 PM EDT
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - Tracy Williams got started in the fire service at a young age.

“They asked me if I wanted to be a part of the junior program. Well, I said yeah just something new, getting ready to get out of high school I’ll just try it. From that day on, I’ve been hooked,” he explained.

That was nearly 40 years ago for the current Assistant Fire Chief and Fire Marshal at the Westview-Fairforest Fire Department in Spartanburg County.

“People need help and we’re there to help,” he said.

In 2009, Williams became the one who needed help after he was diagnosed with cancer.

“Determined that I had Melanoma stage 3A, which meant it was in a lymph node,” Williams explained.

Research from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found firefighters are at a greater risk for certain types of cancers.

According to the CDC, cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters.

“Certainly pose a risk in terms of exposure that the general public just doesn’t see or doesn’t encounter,” said South Carolina State Fire Marshal Jonathan Jones.

After a year of surgeries and chemotherapy, Williams came back full-time to the department and to a job that more than likely contributed to his cancer.

“I never doubted coming back. I knew that this is where I needed to be,” said Williams.

Williams has helped turn his experience into a statewide mission. He helped craft the South Carolina Firefighter Cancer Health Care Benefit Plan, a law that went into effect last July.

In the first year the plan was in place, around $900,000 in total was paid out.

“Firefighters give a lot of themselves to serve their community and their community’s time of need. And the firefighter cancer health care benefit plan is one way for the state, which is really their collective community, to serve firefighters in their time of need,” said Jones.

The South Carolina Firefighter Cancer Health Care Benefit Plan includes the following benefits for eligible individuals diagnosed with an eligible form of cancer on or after July 1, 2021:

· One-time lump sum benefit of $20,000 upon initial diagnosis. This benefit is a one-time, lifetime benefit, for a single diagnosis of a qualifying type of cancer, regardless of how many different diagnoses are received by the applicant.

· Annual reimbursement of up to $12,000 for any out-of-pocket medical expenses due to the treatment of an eligible form of cancer, including deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance costs incurred. This benefit can be paid for separate diagnoses of different forms of eligible cancer. Under no circumstance will the total annual benefit exceed $12,000.

· Death benefit of $75,000, paid to the deceased firefighter’s beneficiary, for a firefighter who dies as a result of cancer or circumstances that arise out of the treatment of cancer.

Williams and the Westview-Fairforest Fire Department have also been doing new practices over the last several years to help firefighters.

“We knew that we needed to change,” said Williams.

The Fire Department has invested in a commercial washing machine, now self-decontaminates on scenes, has placed exhaust systems throughout the fire station, and more.

The Health Care plan also tasks the State Fire Marshal with identifying best practices to establish employer cancer prevention as it relates to protective equipment, decontamination, fire suppression apparatus, and fire stations.