A Lifeline for Rescuers: New Laws Assist Ailing Arkansas Firefighters

April 17, 2019 AT 7:15 AM

By John Moritz

The retirement papers arrived a few days before Nathaniel Crump's death, forcing a decision upon the young firefighter that neither he nor his family wanted to make.

But by that point in mid-2017, the 30-year-old Crump had already had to return to work at the Little Rock Fire Department's Station 3, one of the city's busiest stations, despite a diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer.

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"We were in our 20s when Nathaniel was diagnosed," Crump's widow, Jessica, recalled in an interview last week. "Him getting cancer -- he was fit, healthy -- was, was totally unexplainable. He had no family history."

Crump's doctors linked the deadly cancer to the noxious fumes and soot encountered on the job, Jessica Crump said, but after exhausting his sick leave, her husband was forced to return to work in the final weeks of his life. When he could no longer work, he was forced to take sharply reduced earnings through early retirement.

Firefighter activists say that at the time of Crump's death in June 2017, Arkansas had some of the weakest laws in the country related to line-of-duty cancer, providing only a $150,000 death benefit. But with a trio of bills signed recently by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, they say, Arkansas has risen to the nation's forefront in protecting firefighters with cancer.

In the first step taken by lawmakers, through House Bill 1345 (now Act 638 of 2019), Arkansas will join 33 other states that offer the presumption that cancer is linked to a firefighter's duties and will provide a disability benefit, according to the First Responder Center for Excellence.

Lawmakers also passed Senate Bill 585 (now Act 823) to establish a state trust fund for a firefighter cancer relief network.

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