South Carolina looks to save firefighters' lives with new law

Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 4:16 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - A new South Carolina law just signed this week will help firefighters battling cancer.

Firefighters and their families could get thousands of dollars in benefits.

Fighting fires is dangerous in general, but the gear carries carcinogens from smoke and debris. It’s left seven Aiken Department of Public Safety officers with cancer in the past 10 years.

David Turno is in remission from brain cancer. He’s immunocompromised, but yet he’s still working in a pandemic.

“I did 13 months of chemotherapy, and, of course, that really messes with your immune system in your blood,” Turno said.

But it’s not like those doctor’s visits have stopped. He’ll travel to Duke at the end of this month for his 23rd MRI.

“I can remember vividly when I first was diagnosed, you know,” Turno said. “I thought, ‘Can I afford chemo?’ but, really you can’t afford not to do chemo.”

That’s why Gov. Henry McMaster signed this bill into law -- to help firefighters across South Carolina, paid or volunteer, who are often affected by cancer on the job.

The bill offers $12,000 a year for medical expenses, an upfront payment of $20,000 on diagnosis, and a $75,000 death benefit.

“My cancer would have to come back next year after July 1 for me to benefit from this bill,” Turno said. “But, moving forward, it’s going to help all the others.”

Because the bill only goes into effect upon new diagnosis, Turno’s spent more than $13,000 in trips to Duke for his treatment.

“I’ll stay in debt,” Turno said. “I don’t want my cancer to come back.”

“They won’t have to worry, ‘can I afford it?’ some money will be there.”

Aiken Public Safety started offering cancer insurance for their officers a couple of years ago -- a much better situation than when Turno was diagnosed.

“It is showing that they’re going to support you a little bit in getting the treatment,” Turno said.

Those fighting fires and cancer can finally see the smoke starting to clear.

In 2017, Georgia passed a law requiring fire departments -- volunteer and paid -- to provide cancer insurance benefits for firefighters. South Carolina is one of the last two states in the country to begin offering cancer assistance for firefighters.

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