HELENA – Professional firefighters from Missoula to Miles City were in Helena Thursday afternoon as Senate Bill 160, or the Health and Safety Bill was signed into law.
“Every courthouse to every farmhouse has their flags at half-staff out of respect for Montana firefighters,” Governor Steve Bullock said.
Professional firefighters have worked to pass legislation that would protect them from on-the-job illnesses for the past 20 years.
“I have been involved eighteen years and finally getting it done,” Dave Van Son, Great Falls International Association of Fire Fighters Local 8 president, said. “Being able to finally educate our legislators that it is time to protect Montana firefighters is satisfying.”
The firefighter Health and Safety Bill passed with covered diseases including cancer and more.
“The fire ground for us has changed drastically in the past 30 years. Everything within a residential home, a bedroom, an office building, has some sort of petroleum-based product,” Joel Fassbinder, Montana State Council of Professional Fire Fighters president, said.
“When those products burn, they off gas a chemical, we are not even sure all the chemicals that are off gassing, but we’re finding that they are absorbing through our skin,” he added.
Thursday’s signing was a bittersweet moment for some as they remembered the passing of Great Falls firefighter Jason Baker.
“Jason had a big role in having this legislation pass this year. He was by my side the last twelve plus years fighting the same fight as well,” Van Son said.
A statement from Baker’s family read:
“While we are deeply saddened that Jason did not live long enough to observe this momentous occasion, we are grateful that other firefighters and their families will finally have the coverage they deserve.”
The International Association of Fire Fighters General President Harold Schaitberger said they are working hard to ensure their firefighters are protected.