David Monroe may be the first firefighter to take advantage of new free cancer screenings offered by Southwest Cancer Centers of Oklahoma.
His wife, Carey, is the driving force behind a new bill, if passed by the Oklahoma Legislature, that will offer free cancer screenings to current, retired and former firefighters.
Carey Monroe said she was inspired by the death last year of Altus Fire Chief Greg Cross at the age of 57. He was the latest of three Altus fire chiefs to die from cancer. She ultimately contacted Dist. 62 Rep. Daniel, Pae, R-Lawton, about the idea. He crafted House Bill 3673, named “Fighting Chance for Firefighters Act” that will cover free cancer screenings.
“The Fighting Chance for Firefighters Act, devoid of deductibles and co-payments, is a testament to our commitment to safeguarding those who risk their lives and health tirelessly protecting our communities,” Pae said in a statement. “By confronting cancer head-on and encouraging early detection, we can give all of Oklahoma’s firefighters their best chance for a healthy and resilient future.”
Although the bill must pass the state Legislature before it becomes law, Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma has decided to implement the free screenings later this week.
“The earlier you catch the symptoms, the better off you are,” said Lane Hooton, Chief Operating Officer of the Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma, when the program was announced on Monday morning.
The bill is aimed specifically at firefighters because cancer is the No. 1 cause of line-of-duty deaths for firefighters, Carey Monroe said.
Part of the hazard comes from exposure to chemicals firefighters must deal with, according to Mike Kelley, executive director of Oklahoma State Firefighter Association.
Kelley said this legislation also will help volunteer firefighters.
“Most volunteer firefighters are farmers or small businessmen,” he said. While large cities cover their firefighters through health insurance, volunteer departments do not. “Having something like this is huge for them.”
Kelley said the Oklahoma State Firefighter Association will be instrumental in lobbying for passage of HB 3673 and will conduct an education campaign to get word out to firefighters if the legislation is passed.
David Monroe, who graduated from MacArthur High School, has been a firefighter in Altus for the past 16 years.
“Three of my friends passed away in the last three years (from cancer),” he said of how his wife became involved in the project. “They didn’t get to enjoy retirement. Plus the profession is becoming more dangerous due to these chemicals. House fires burn hotter and faster due to these chemicals.
“I’ve been one of those guys who thought ‘It’s not going to happen to me’,” but she’s (Carey) going to make me the first one (to get screened).
Carey Monroe said once the screenings are completed, the results will be mailed back to the individual. The results will not be shared with the firefighter’s employer.
Although the legislation is aimed at firefighters, Hooton said Cancer Centers of Southwest Oklahoma will offer the free screenings to all current, former and retired first responders, including police officers and EMTs.
Although the screenings are free, if something is found, the case will be turned over to the individual’s insurance company, Hooton said.
Under the bill, coverage shall not be subject to any annual deductible, copayments or coinsurance limits as established for all covered benefits under the health benefit plan, which is provided through the Employees Group Insurance Division of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES). Further testing and procedures will be billed to the provider’s insurance coverage.