Written by Joel Fassbinder
As the president of the Montana State Council of Professional Fire Fighters, I know how rewarding it can be to be look out for our communities and keep Montanans safe.
But as rewarding as this job can be, it also comes with certain occupational hazards. Today’s firefighters are exposed to more hazardous chemicals than any other generation before them, and that exposure can come with serious medical problems — like PTSD, heart disease, lung disease or even cancer.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for Montana firefighters to get treated for an illness they got on the job. Montana is one of only five states without a “presumptive law,” which allows firefighters to get medical treatment without going through the bureaucratic, burdensome, slow process of proving that they got sick on the job.
For that, we can thank Matt Rosendale, who was one of the deciding votes to kill legislation that would have made it easier for Montana firefighters to receive health care for an illness they got on the job.
Right now, if Montana firefighters get sick with cancer, lung or heart disease, PTSD, or illnesses brought on by exposure to toxic chemicals, they have to prove without a shadow of a doubt that they got sick while on the job. This can be impossible to prove. In addition, not having firefighter health coverage laws puts an enormous burden on firefighters who are sick, being treated for a time sensitive illness, or even dying.
The Montana Legislature wrote a bill to solve this problem and join the majority of the other states that protect their firefighters with this coverage. But the legislation failed to pass, and Rosendale was one of the votes to kill it.
This isn’t the only time Rosendale has thrown career firefighters under the bus. He voted for legislation that would have allowed cities to cut back on paid firefighters serving Montana communities, leaving volunteer firefighters to fill in the public safety gaps.
The legislation Rosendale voted for would have been incredibly negligent for communities like Billings, which gets 10,000 service calls a year that just couldn’t be served by a volunteer department. Simply put, many parts of Montana need paid firefighters, because there aren’t enough volunteer firefighters to respond to the sheer number of service calls received every year.
But in addition to it being a public safety issue, the legislation Rosendale voted for could have gutted the retirement system for career firefighters. With fewer paid firefighters, there would be fewer employees paying into our retirement system. It would have, without a doubt, put pensions for retired firefighters and their families on the chopping block.
Matt Rosendale’s opposition to these bills lacks Montana common sense. One has to wonder why Rosendale would ever vote against better health coverage for firefighters or to allow cuts to the number of paid firefighters protecting Montana communities. You have to wonder who he was fighting for — because he wasn’t standing up for the Montanans who put their lives on the line to protect our state every day.
As fires in Montana become increasingly more dangerous and costly, it is increasingly more important that our elected officials support firefighters. We need someone who recognizes the value in standing up for the men and women who have made a career out of protecting our communities.
Rosendale’s record of voting against resources for firefighters suggests a reckless disregard for the safety of Montanans, and it shows that he is out of touch with what Montanans need. Firefighters need a champion, and Matt Rosendale is not it.
Joel Fassbinder works for the Bozeman Fire Department, and is president of the Montana State Council of Professional Fire Fighters and Montana State Firemen’s Association.