COLUMBUS – Due to heavy demand, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) is more than doubling its funding for a new grant program aimed at protecting firefighters from carcinogens and other toxins that cause long-term health ailments.
Visiting a fire station in Westerville Tuesday ahead of Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address, BWC Administrator/CEO Sarah Morrison said her agency had originally allotted $2 million this year for its Firefighter Exposure to Environmental Elements Grant Program, but as of Feb. 28, BWC had received 444 grant applications seeking nearly $4.7 million in funding.
“When we call firefighters for help, they’re at our door as fast as humanly possible,” said Morrison, visiting the Genoa Township Fire Department headquarters northeast of Columbus. “It’s only right that we do the same when they need equipment critical to their health and safety. We want every qualifying fire department that applies for these grants to get their funds as soon as possible.”
To date, BWC has awarded 199 grants totaling $2 million with four months remaining in the fiscal year. The other 245 grant applications are pending.
The grant program is one of several health and safety components to BWC’s Third Billion Back rebate to Ohio employers last year. Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general public, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
In Genoa Township, Fire Chief Gary Honeycutt used a $10,075 grant to purchase an “extractor” — an industrial washing machine to replace a 1995 model that no longer met the needs of his growing department or the updated requirements of the National Fire Protection Association. The new, larger machine allows all gear to be washed prior to the next shift.
“Cancer is a leading threat to firefighter health and we take that threat seriously,” Honeycutt said. “We are grateful for the BWC grant that has allowed us to remove carcinogens from turnout gear, minimizing health impacts to our firefighters.”
Chief Deputy State Fire Marshal Bill Spurgeon joined Morrison to meet the station’s crew and see the extractor in action.
“We have always known the importance of safety gear in firefighting, but now we also have a better understanding of how proper maintenance of that gear can protect the health and safety of our first responders,” Spurgeon said. “Kudos to this fire department and departments across the state that are taking this threat seriously.”
BWC’s grant program will continue for a second year beginning July 1 with a funding level of $2 million.