Inter-Canyon considering cancer program

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By Deborah Swearingen

Inter-Canyon Fire Protection District is considering participation in a newly established program that provides financial awards to firefighters diagnosed with one of five types of cancer — brain, skin, digestive, hematological or genitourinary.

The Voluntary Cancer Award Program was established through a bill signed in early May by Gov. John Hickenlooper. According to the text of the legislation, the bill allows an employer to participate in the voluntary program by paying contributions into an established trust, which provides benefits to each firefighter based on the cancer diagnosis and award level.

“It’s an award benefit for the five different types of cancer that firefighters are more prone to succumb to,” said Inter-Canyon Chief Skip Shirlaw.

Joe DePaepe with McGriff, Seibels and Williams reiterated this point. His insurance firm is handling the administration for the new program.

“An accident policy would be the best way to describe it,” he said. “It’s an award policy that basically is based upon a diagnosis as opposed to being based upon an accident.”

Meetings of the City Municipal League, Special Districts Association of Colorado, the Colorado Fire Chiefs Association and the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters Association led to the idea for the program. Previously, the entities formed the Colorado Firefighter Heart and Circulatory Benefits Trust, which DePaepe says was successful in handling cardiac claims.

Before this, firefighters with work-related cancer had to go through the workers’ compensation program. Workers’ compensation can be costly for employers and slow moving for employees.

“There’s quite a bit of an investigation just to prove that these cancers could have possibly been contributed to firefighting,” Shirlaw said. “Firefighters have gone years without receiving any kind of help or compensation from workman’s comp, so they’re accruing bills … and some have lost their lives even before benefits kicked in.”

Financial compensation through VCAP is organized into tiered award levels, ranging from $200 to $250,000 depending on the covered individual’s type and stage of cancer. Awards under $4,000 are paid out in a lump sum, while amounts over that will pay $4,000 biweekly.

Stipulations with the program

In addition to being diagnosed with one of the specified cancers, there are other requirements for a firefighter’s participation in the program. They must be a member of a department that is participating in the program and paying its annual contribution to the trust. For Inter-Canyon, the contribution would equate to approximately $3,800 a year, Shirlaw said.

A full-time firefighter must serve five years in a department before being able to receive compensation. But a volunteer firefighter, such as those with Inter-Canyon, must serve 10 years with the department and maintain an active role, including participation in a minimum of 36 training hours per year.

“Obviously, if you’re a volunteer and you’re never going to training for fires, there’s no exposure,” DePaepe said.

Firefighters also must have had a physical examination after being hired and prior to the diagnosis to ensure the cancer developed after serving in the department.

Under consideration

While a final decision has not yet been made, the Inter-Canyon fire board discussed the possibility of participation at its May 10 board meeting.

Board member Kerry Prielipp wondered how frequently Inter-Canyon firefighters would benefit from the VCAP.

“You know, we’ve had some members that have been diagnosed with cancer,” Shirlaw said. “Whether it was related to this work or not, I don’t think we ever knew that.”

But, overall, board members seemed generally favorable about the program, particularly since the first year’s cost would be covered by the Colorado Special Districts pool.

“That cost is covered 100 percent (in the first year),” Shirlaw said. “The question, of course, is what happens after that.”

Karl Firor, Inter-Canyon’s fire board treasurer, suggested it may be wise to try out the program while the cost is covered and then evaluate the decision before next year’s renewal date.

And DePaepe confirmed fire departments have the choice to remain under the current workers’ compensation presumption status or opt into the new VCAP model. Departments will renew their participation in the program annually, so Inter-Canyon would have the choice to opt out come 2018.

The VCAP will become effective July 1 should Inter-Canyon elect to participate.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042.