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Seeking Solutions: NC lawmakers debate new relief for firefighters with cancer

Recent studies show firefighters are 9% more likely to get cancer compared to everyone else, and they're 14% more likely to die from it.

RHODHISS, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers are once again debating legislation to address an alarming spike in firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer.

House Bill 535 would provide a lump sum of $25,000 to firefighters for each cancer diagnosis they receive, up to $50,000 total.

It would also cover up to $12,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses, and it would provide disability benefits for firefighters who can no longer work because of their diagnosis.

Rep. Jason Saine of Lincoln County is a sponsor of the legislation.

He spent several years battling fires as a volunteer firefighter with East Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department.

RELATED: Burke County firefighter's death draws attention to 'cancer crisis'

"It certainly doesn't replace a family member," Rep. Saine said. "But it is something the legislature believes is important and something we want to do for our firefighters."

Recent studies show firefighters are 9% more likely to get cancer compared to everyone else, and they're 14% more likely to die from it.

The legislation comes nearly two years after Chris Banks, Jr., a 28-year-old Burke County volunteer firefighter, died from a rare form of head and neck cancer.

Melissa Stevenson worked with Banks at Drowning Creek Volunteer Fire Department, and she said everyone in the department believes Banks' cancer came from fighting a 2016 fire at the old Hildebran High School.

"Since Chris has died, we really upped our game on trying to protect the firemen," Stevenson said.

The department spent $8,000 purchasing new breathing apparatuses for their firefighters.


But she felt the General Assembly also needs to step up by providing greater financial assistance to the families of firefighters diagnosed with cancer.

Banks' family had to start a GoFundMe to pay for his funeral expenses.

"We're not out there just for show," Banks said. "We're out there protecting the community and their properties."

RELATED: Community says goodbye to fallen Burke County firefighter

Contact Brandon Golder at bgoldner@wcnc.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.