Firefighter's lung cancer death sparks change in fire service - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Firefighter's lung cancer death sparks change in fire service

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BONNERS FERRY, Idaho -

A California firefighter living in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, passed away over the weekend after battling lung cancer. Now George Gemind is being remembered for his decades of service. But his death is also pushing lawmakers to take cancer in firefighters seriously.

Studies show that cancer, not just smoke and flames, is now the leading cause of death for firefighters. Firefighters and lawmakers in Washington and Idaho are trying to reverse that deadly trend.

“One of the best things I ever did was become a firefighter,” Gemind said, when we interviewed him in 2017.

For 30 years, George Gemind battled fires in southern California.

His coworkers called him a firefighter's firefighter, saying he was instrumental in upgrading their fire equipment.

But after years of firefighting, he retired and came to call Bonners Ferry home.

When we interviewed George in October 2017, it was his first time being in a fire station since leaving California.

“That was four years ago,” he said.

The smile he had that day being back beamed across his face.

Weeks before our interview, George found out he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.

Benefits were held to help him and his family pay for treatment and George was holding strong.

Sunday, February 18th, 2018, George passed away at his home in Bonners Ferry.

His wife, Cathy, posted on Facebook saying “For five months, we fought very hard to save his life, but we also prepared for his possible death.”

”And while my heart hurts over my loss, I'm truly heartbroken for all of you who knew him and had the privilege of calling him "friend." He will be missed, and you, like I, will grieve.”

As a group, firefighters have a four percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population.

Now, everything from their gear to firefighters themselves is decontaminated. A second set of turnout gear and breathing apparatus’s for firefighters at Spokane County Fire District 8 are provided.

Captain Jeff Wainwright has been a firefighter for over 25 years, he remembers wearing the soot and ash a badge of honor.

But now that’s changed.

"This is one of those things that when we show that this is what's killing us and we show our folks hard data, it doesn't take them that long to understand,” Wainwright said.

The narrative has changed amongst firefighters nationwide.

In Washington, a recent Senate bill passed and is now in the House chambers that will add nine more cancers to the already 11 covered under Workmen’s Compensation that firefighters can get while on the job.

In Idaho, a bill was passed back in 2016 that covers 11 cancers through Workmen’s Compensation.

Both states have presumptive disease coverage that puts the burden of proof on the employer, not the employee.

Michael White, the legislative liaison for the Washington State Council of Firefighters, says with the new proposed expansion, it’ll also cover breast cancer.

“Women are severely under-represented in the fire service, but they are getting breast cancer at greater rates than the general population, women ages 50-54, get it at 2.66 times the general population,” White said.

The Washington bill is now under review by the House, Labor, and Workplace Standards Committee.

In Idaho, professional firefighters say they plan to update the current bill within the next few years.

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