Former San Francisco Firefighter Attempts to Prove Cancer was Job Related

Denise Elarms battled fires in San Francisco for 12 years, until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. Since then, she not only has been fighting for her life – she also has been fighting for a paycheck, reports The San Francisco Chronicle.

Elarms’ work as a firefighter exposed her to toxic chemicals, carcinogens that she believes — and a mounting body of evidence suggests — caused her stage four breast cancer, leaving her unable to work. But when she applied for workers’ compensation three years ago, then again when she decided to retire earlier this year, Elarms found herself on the defensive, essentially being asked to prove that her illness is job-related.

A law being drafted by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu may change that and put the city in the company of 19 states, including California, that already give firefighters the presumption that disabilities from illnesses such as cancer or heart disease were caused by their work. Such laws allow them to more easily access workers’ compensation and early retirement benefits, as well as death benefits for their families.

Right now, a San Francisco firefighter who retires early because of cancer cannot collect a full paycheck until reaching retirement age, said Tom O’Connor, head of the firefighters union.

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