Recent changes to firefighter and police heart and lung injury laws in Nevada mean first responders who risk their safety for the public’s benefit will now receive special protections. These long-overdue additions will provide benefits for injuries that occur following toxic exposures and traumatic events.
SB 215 & AB 492 Signed into Law
In June 2019, Governor Steve Sisolak signed SB 215 and AB 492 into law. These pieces of legislation provide solid protections for law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first responders who are suffering from cancers and other lung injuries, heart problems, or mental health conditions as a result of their jobs. These laws are similar to other laws that have been introduced and passed by other state legislatures in recent years.
Under the new laws, injuries such as lung disease or heart disease will be presumed to be work-related injuries stemming from service as a firefighter, police officer, or arson investigator.
These laws provide options for recovering compensation so that first responders can receive the care and treatments they need. From a human standpoint, it’s justly deserved. From a community standpoint, it means that firefighters and law enforcement officers can focus on protecting the public and performing their duties without having to worry about how they will recover should they suffer a heart/lung injury, or develop a mental health condition.
Toxic Exposures and Lung Injuries
Firefighters and law enforcement officers are at considerable risk of suffering toxic exposures that can damage delicate lung tissue. Responding to a residential, commercial, or vehicle fire can expose first responders to asbestos and vapors from oil, gasoline, and diesel fuel. Burning plastics, furniture, clothing, upholstery, and other items can release untold numbers of chemical compounds into the atmosphere. There are also household chemicals, paints, and other particulate matter that filters and masks can’t completely remove. Exposures to drug labs and other toxic sites are common job risks to police officers and firefighters.
That’s just the start. Many of the chemicals used by law enforcement and firefighters to extinguish fires or contain spilled fluids are also toxic. In some cases, first responders are using equipment lined with asbestos and other known carcinogens. In fact, contrary to the popular myth, these pollutants aren’t entirely banned, they’re only banned for certain uses.
Of course, firefighting is an inherently dangerous job. In 2018, 64 firemen died in the line of duty; an unknown but presumably higher number died from injuries suffered years earlier, and years before they retired. Likewise, in 2018, 167 police officers died. Of these, 29 were known to have died due to 9/11 related illnesses, and 19 died of heart attacks. It was these deaths as well as the deaths of many others that have prompted legislators from California, to Nevada to Washington, DC to take action. It’s a safe bet that other states will soon follow and that over time, other conditions may be granted the same presumptions.
The Importance of Prompt Treatment for Lung, Heart, and Mental Health Injuries
Lung disease and heart disease are long-term occupational diseases that can significantly shorten an individual’s lifespan. However, early treatment and proper intervention can dramatically reduce the risk of death from these diseases. When caught early and appropriate treatments are applied, individuals with these conditions can live near-normal lifespans. However, even with treatment and long-term medical intervention, these injuries will alter the individual’s lifestyle and potentially, quality of life.
Similarly, mental health care is vital for first responders who witness some truly horrific events. From dead bodies to mass casualties these events can linger in the minds of first responders for decades after they occur. AB 492 means that these individuals can treat these memories and mitigate the impact they have on their lives. This will make them healthier and more able to perform the duties our communities need.