Montana lawmakers reject firefighter health bill


MISSOULA, Mont. - Lawmakers in Helena voted against a bill to set up a fund for firefighters who develop diseases as a result of their duties.

The House Business and Labor Committee tabled the measure Wednesday after Chairman Mark Noland said firefighters chose their jobs "with their eyes wide open."

NBC Montana reached out to lawmakers who voted against the bill including Noland. No one responded.

It was a different story when Frenchtown Fire reached out to Noland. Noland told firefighters the bill needs funding and other programs in Health and Human Services would have to be cut to fund it.

Frenchtown firefighter Mel Holtz says Montana is one of four states in the country that doesn't have a presumptive law for firefighters who develop cancer as a result of their job.

Missoula resident Matt Wardell says that came as a surprise to him.

"That's pretty shocking actually," Wardell said. "I figured Montana to be ahead of the curve on most of those things."

Holtz says house fires nowadays are much worse than they have ever been.

"House fires now have more synthetic materials, burn hotter, burn faster and burn more toxins," Holtz said.

Firefighters would be eligible for benefits from a presumptive disease compensation fund if their claims are denied by workers' compensation insurance.

The measure already passed in the Senate. The House could still revive it this session.

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