Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Fayetteville firefighter and cancer: When just going to work can kill you

Posted By on Sun, Nov 18, 2012 at 11:37 AM

I have never met Harold Planchon, but it would be an honor to shake his hand.

The well-written article in the Northwest Arkansas Times - “A Different Kind of Fight: Former Firefighter raises cancer issue” - begins this way:

“To the eye, Harold W. “Bud” Planchon of Fayetteville lacks hair and his skin seems a little dry. Inside, three-fourths of his liver and about 4 feet of his intestine are gone.

“The former Springdale firefighter has cancer.”

The veteran firefighter has a particularly ugly form of cancer - adenocarcinoma - that is recognized by 33 states as a work-related illness suffered by firefighters.

Arkansas is not among those states.

The cancer can develop as the result of breathing bin the fumes from diesel engines. Coupled with the added danger of fumes from burning chemicals, it can increase one’s chances of developing colon cancer. Well, 33 states in the Union agree that this is so.

Arkansas is not among those states.

The article goes on to bring in Don Zimmerman, executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League, who diminishes this man’s (and that of others) suffering with the cavalier dismissal of scientific proof, when he claims that the reason that so many other states view this as a genuine work-related illness is because of the “clout” of firefighters’ groups (unions?).

Well, at least he didn’t bring up “sound science.”

Not alone in his view, the Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System takes much the same stance.

Taking issue with that is Ed Jaros, president of the Arkansas Professional Fire Fighters Association, who points out that there are cities in our state which install ventilation equipment in their station.

Quite correctly, it seems to me, he makes the link between installing the equipment and and cities taking such measures to decrease the risks to firefighters.

Pension fund administrators have been dithering when it comes his case, which he hopes will result in his family being able to qualify for survivor’s benefits, should his cancer be “officially:” recognized by the state of Arkansas as being work-related. His request was denied, but he will appeal that decision on December 6, when the pension board meets again.

Of course, the burden of proof lays entirely of Planchon’s shoulders.

How much proof will he need?

In a letter to those in control of the issue, Dr. Daniel S. Bradford of Highlands Oncology, wrote the following:

“Let me state this clearly: This data shows that firefighters have a 21 (percent) to 36 percent increased incidence of colon cancer compared to a healthy working population, with the only obvious difference being their occupational exposure history.”

Still, we have all seen this play out before; sometimes all the medical proof in the world just isn’t enough to sway people who are looking to protect their bottom line.

Firefighters put their lives on the line constantly, and the cold world-view of someone like Don Zimmerman should not prevail in these matters.

As Planchon says in the article, “It’s not right to have incurable, terminal cancer and wake up more concerned about finances than your health.”

Especially when it is your devotion to the community that has put you in the way of a killer that bureaucrats can simply see as just another statistic.


Quote of the Day

I can’t stand to sing the same song the same way two nights in succession. If you can, it ain’t music, it’s close order drill, or exercise, or yodeling, or something, not music. - Billie Holiday

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