Photo provided by Cameron Abell, Billings Firefighters

Finally, Firefighters Secure the Protection They Deserve After 20 Years of Fighting

Gov. Steve Bullock will sign the firefighter health and safety bill into law on Thursday, April 18. Finally, the men and women who protect us will be covered by workers’ compensation for certain cancers and diseases linked to firefighting.

Cancer “is an on-the-job injury,” said Captain Joel Fassbinder, president of the Montana State Council of Professional Firefighters and the Montana State Firemen’s Association, last December when Prairie Populist first began covering the bill. The firefighter health and safety bill has been a high-profile piece of legislation that drew widespread support outside the confines of the capital, as well.  

This week, Fassbinder told us that the firefighters, legislators and supporters who have worked so hard to pass the bill into law are ecstatic, to say the least.

“We’re going to celebrate this,” he said, adding that the bill’s passage has been a long time coming. Hard-working advocates deserve some time to relish in its success.

However, after taking a much-earned break, the Montana State Council of Professional Firefighters and the Montana State Firemen’s Association will ensure the bill works as intended: providing coverage for firefighters when they need it most.

“We will be watching it like hawks to make sure it works for our members,” Fassbinder said. “These laws are written on paper, not stone. So they can change.”

The health and safety bill-turned-law is a gigantic win for firefighters

However, it was a tough legislative session for many who lost a special colleague to a job-related illness.

Devastatingly, Great Falls Firefighter Jason Baker lost his fight against cancer last February. He vocally supported passage of the key bill.

Bullock declared all flags be flown at half staff on April 18 to honor all Montana firefighters, including Jason, who lost their lives from a job-related illness. Their loss was the impetus for the creation of the bill, soon transformed into law.

Jill Baker, Jason’s spouse, provided Prairie Populist a statement in celebration of the firefighter health and safety Bill passing:

“Jason’s legacy will be remembered through his tireless advocacy of health and safety coverage for his brothers and sisters in the fire service.

“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,” Jill added.

All of us at Prairie Populist celebrate the bill’s success. We’re also pausing to acknowledge the work necessary to pass it — and remember Jason and others who did not live to see its passage.

To all who worked on the Firefighter health and safety bill, thank you.

-Andie Creel

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