Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend to 71st Florida Professional Firefighters Convention in Boca Raton. The purpose of the summer convention is to update the membership on the events of the year's legislative session and the goals for next year's legislative session. There was also over free 40 classes available for the delegates dealing with everything from filing grievances to retirement plans. Over 500 firefighters from all over the state were in attendance for the convention. One of the biggest highlights for the Reedy Creek delegation was that our attorney, Rich Siwica, was made an honorary member of the FPF. This resolution was written by the Melbourne and Reedy Creek locals, with over 50 other locals signing on as co-sponsors. This was passed unanimously by the entire delegation. Rich was extremely grateful and overwhelmed to the point of tears.
On the legislative front, there were no changes to FRS this year. Chances are pretty good that there will not be any changes in the 2016 legislative session. This is mostly due to the relationship the FPF has built with House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner. In 2016, the Speaker of the House will be Richard Corcoran and the Senate President will be Joe Negron, neither of whom are big supporters of public employee unions, in particular, firefighter unions. With the current governor still in favor of increasing state employees' contributions to 5%, 2016 would be the year to push for it. If Negron and Corcoran do not have a change in heart, there maybe be additional attempts to restructure the entire FRS, and not in a way that is beneficial to state employees. The only hope to stop this would be to continue to have Senator Jack Latvala hold onto his bipartisan coalition in the Senate. Hopefully, the 14 Democrats and 8 Republicans will be re elected and will be able to continue to hold off any detrimental changes to FRS.
On another front, it looks as if the pursuit of a cancer presumption law has overtaken the restoration of the FRS cost of living allowance (COLA) as the top legislative priority for the FPF. Cancer is something that affects all firefighters, as opposed to only firefighters that are in FRS. Also, the cost of restoring the COLA is going to be tremendous. It would be a huge political lift for the FPF and it would be very difficult to find sponsors/supporters for something this expensive. A cancer presumption law would make most cancers that a working firefighter contracts deemed "presumptive." These cancers will be assumed to have been due to a job related exposure. Currently, if a firefighter comes down with cancer, they have to go through the Worker's Comp process, as opposed to being an acquired disability with better benefits from the state (similar to what is available through the heart/lung presumption).
According to a study conducted by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and IAFF Local 1403 (Metro Dade), firefighters have a 310% greater chance of contracting some form of cancer than the general population. The study is not complete, but of the 1000 MDFR retires interviewed so far, over 1/3 of them have contracted some form of cancer. Almost 40% of all MDFR retiree deaths have resulted from cancer, with about 1/3 being respiratory related cancers. In a related study sponsored by the Palm Beach County Firefighters, IAFF Local 2928, over 54%c of their active firefighters have contracted some form of cancer. These numbers helped influence the Florida Legislature to allocate one million dollars to the University of Miami to study cancer in firefighters. They are to report their findings to the Legislature 2 years after the study begins (Oct 2015). In a letter to FPF President Jim Tolley, I encouraged him to put active firefighters with cancer and their survivors in front of legislators in every available public forum. I encouraged him to consistently report the cancer numbers and finding to the legislators in a matter of fact way. My thought was to make them say publicly 'no, I do not want to be a part of this legislation and I will not support it.' In November, I will be attending the FPF Executive Board meeting where we will sit down with various attorneys and supportive legislators in writing the language for the new law. Currently, 34 other states have cancer presumption statutes, so we will use some of the existing language in other states. We will be enlisting the support of other fire organizations, such as the Florida Fire Chiefs Association, the State Fire Marshall's office, and state CFO Jeff Atwater, to help push this through the legislature. During the November meeting we will also have a large number of candidate forums to determine who the FPF is going to support in the March 15 primary.
MCFR has been out front on cancer prevention more than any other fire department. They recently started issuing each firefighter a second set of bunker gear. They were one of the first departments to have diesel exhaust systems and heavy duty washing machines in their stations. MCFR also does year round cancer screenings along with utilizing Life Scan during their annual physicals for all employees. Eventually, we hope this will become a standard for the entire state. Please remember to wash your bunker gear regularly, particularly when it gets dirty and use your SCBA in all potentially hazardous environments. The IAFF is working in Washington DC in trying to the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban all organohalogens. These are chemicals used in making flame retardants for children's products, furniture, mattresses, and electronic casings. These chemicals will burn and produce toxic fumes. Exposure to these fumes have been linked to a large number of firefighter cancer related illnesses.
One other note, while the $1 million for cancer research passed through the governor's line item veto, the raises earmarked for Florida Forestry Firefighters did not avoid the governor's veto pen. This is extremely disappointing for them since they have not had raises in over 5 years. Their salaries are currently low enough to qualify for food stamp assistance. They also have to live with 20 miles of their stations and work with old, out dated (mostly old military) equipment. This contributes to such a large turnover in their organization. Unfortunately, due to being included in the "governor's budget," it will be difficult to get raises for these firefighters while the current governor is in office.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
FPF Sergeant At Arms