Archive for July 11th, 2018

Cancer in the fire service

Excerpts from

Portsmouth (NH) Fire Lt. Russ Osgood was next to Firefighter Sarah Fox the day she died from cancer at Concord Hospital when he learned another fire brother, Jeff Bokum, had the disease as well.

The toll Osgood faced in that moment at the hospital was emotional, but a financial one came shortly after. Osgood and firefighters worked to raise thousands of dollars for Bokum’s out-of-pocket costs during his six-month battle as they had for Fox in the months before her death, cancer benefits not yet covered for fighters.

Tuesday will bring the passage of a law funding cancer treatment benefits Bokum and Fox went without before they died within a five-month span. 

The bill will allow firefighter cancer treatment benefits to be funded through worker’s compensation as no funding mechanism was previously established by the Legislature. It’s passage will come 28 years after a law establishing a presumptive cancer law for firefighters was ruled unconstitutional because it lacked a funding mechanism, leaving firefighters with cancer to pay many costs out of pocket.

Firefighters had previously advocated for funding in Concord for years without success. The signing of the bill is meaningful not only to Portsmouth firefighters but to firefighters across the state.

Both the Bokum and Fox families struggled with finances as they worked to pay for treatment. Bokum went to MD Anderson Center in Houston, Texas, where he paid for for expensive treatment not covered by insurance on top of the cost of living in his temporary home.

Fox was raising three children, including two young twins, and was unable to contribute to her family’s business, which strapped the family. She also used all of her vacation time to deal with her treatment, and when she ran out, firefighters worked to swap shifts to help her. The creation of a leave bank for firefighters to donate leave time for other employees to use was also inspired by Fox.

Firefighters raised more than $100,000 over the course of a year and a half for Bokum and Fox. About 500 motorcyclists raised $25,000 in 2010 for the first annual Sarah’s Ride, which continues to this day. Donations big and small were received, from the large amount coming from Globe Manufacturing to $5 donations from lemonade stands run by kids.

Firefighters were well aware other states offered cancer benefits to firefighters and were frustrated that so much work was needed to pay for illness deemed work-related under law. 

While losing Fox and Bokum was devastating for their fellow firefighters, their stories created awareness of firefighter cancer at a time when fewer people knew of their heightened risk. Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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Mattoon Fire Department news

Excerpts from

A four page report asserting that Mattoon Fire Department pension costs are too high was recently mailed to more than 11,200 household and business addresses in the city limits.

Former Mattoon City Council member David Schilling wrote this critique. Mattoon Firefighters Local 691 has responded by saying that Schilling’s report skews its presentation of various financial figures regarding the fire department while not applying the same critical examination to other city departments or past actions by the city council.

Schilling, who served two terms as city finance commissioner from 2001 to 2009, said he has long been concerned about firefighter pension costs growing at a rate that he feels is financially unsustainable for the city.He started writing his report in January 2017 and went through many drafts before recently getting this critique ready for a mass mailing. He added that local businesses and community members anonymously donated money to cover the printing and mailing costs.

Schilling writes in his report that a firefighter can retire at age 50 with 20 years of experience, or 30 years for a full benefit, and then be eligible for a pension that grows at the rate of 3 percent compounded. He added that the pension program covers widows of firefighters, too. He wrote that the city’s annual firefighter pension payouts have increased from $1.2 million for 45 retirees in 2003 to $2.6 million for 55 retirees in 2018.

Schilling also writes about the city’s firefighter pension fund and the amount of money that city has to have in it based on the number and ages of the current and retired firefighters, and the percentage of funding. He wrote that the firefighter pension fund had net assets of $15.5 million in 2017, enough to fund only 30.4 percent of the $50.9 million in pension obligation for that year.

He said that the city also is facing similar levels of pension obligations and shortfalls in funding for the police pension fund.

“Pension cost issues have been predominately created by previous city councils not funding the pension plans,” said firefighter union president Bart Owen. “Firefighters have 9.43 percent deducted from our paychecks and have for years; yet the city did not fulfill their side of the deal. Now they are placing the blame on employees.”

Owen said pension plans are like retirement insurance and they balance retirement risk, like home or car insurance. He said participants contribute a set amount, like a premium, so it will cover them in retirement after they have worked for years and earned the benefit. As another example, he said everyone in Social Security eventually draws out more than they put into it. He added, “that’s the point or it would make no mathematical sense to create retirement systems.”

In addition, Owen said revisions to state law governing two tier pension systems for anyone hired in 2011 or later will save cities 25 percent on pension costs. He said new hires since then are no longer receiving 3 percent compounding yearly increases in their pensions. He also said the pensions are no longer based on the last day’s pay for a firefighter and are now based on an average eight of 10 years of salaries.

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Of interest … Highway to memorialize Chief Ed Switalski


Highway sign installed for the Chief Ed Switalski Memorial Highway in Michigan

Highway sign installed for the Chief Ed Switalski Memorial Highway in Michigan

thanks Drew