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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Firefighter Who Advocated For Workers Comp Law Succumbs To Cancer

Great Falls City Firefighter Jason Baker lost his battle with Stage IV lung cancer Wednesday morning. His friend and fellow firefighter, David Van Son, remembers Baker, an 18-year-veteran of the city’s fire fighting team, as not only a terrific firefighter, but an all-around great man.

“Oh my God – Jason was probably the best friend that anyone could have. (gets emotional) Sorry about that. Jason was someone that would always bring a smile to your face no matter what was going on.”

The 45-year-old Baker, a non-smoker and otherwise the picture of fitness, was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. His illness was never connected to any one specific event or cause, but Van Son, the President of the City of Great Falls Fire Fighters IAFF Local 8 says one thing is certain, “Firefighters are getting sick.”

Van Son says research is showing that even though firefighters’ lungs are protected by state-of-the-art respiratory gear, burning fumes and toxins are, “Absorbing into our skin. Unfortunately (Baker) was one of the ones who those toxins ended up affecting.”

But Montana is one of three states where firefighters aren’t covered for job-related illnesses including cancer and various cardiopulmonary diseases. Before he died, Jason Baker was an outspoken supporter of Senate Bill 160 - the Montana Firefighter Health and Safety bill - currently before the Montana Legislature.

“Right now the burden of proof is put on the firefighter," Van Son says. "We have to prove that the cancer was caused by our firefighting career. This actually shifts the burden of proof to the workman’s comp insurance company.”

Without that protection, Van Son says firefighters who get sick on the job could easily slip into medical bankruptcy due to their enormous medical bills. Van Son says a similar bill was killed during the 2017 Legislature. He’s hoping for a different outcome this session.

A public memorial service for Great Falls City Firefighter Jason Baker will be held February 26th at 2:00 at the Great Falls Civic Center. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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