smokejumper seriously injured on the job, diagnosed with cancer – Wildfire Today

Ben Elkind and family
Ben Elkind and family

Ben Elkind was seriously injured during a training parachute jump on May 15. In his ninth year as a smoke jumper (prior to that, six years with a hotshot crew), he dislocated his hip and pelvis in a hard landing. During the operation at the hospital, they found six fractures and inserted three plates and ten screws to repair the damage.

While Ben will be unable to fight fires for an extended period of time, he won’t be able to supplement his basic income with the standard 1,000 hours of overtime per year he has historically relied on to support his wife and two young children.

And then during a full-body CT scan, a lump was discovered on his thyroid — meaning cancer. Ben told Wildfire Today the cancer was caught early and is very treatable.

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We’ve written about Ben before, but that was before we were aware of the cancer. And the other reason we’re bringing it up now is that NBC News yesterday ran a nearly four-minute video story on Ben and other similar examples of firefighters injured in the wild.

For more than the past year, Ben has been very active in improving the working conditions of federal wilderness firefighters processing worker’s compensation claims (see photo below). In 2021 he wrote an article that was published in The Oregonian and wildfire today. And now he finds himself as one of the examples of what can happen to a firefighter in the wild on the job that can seriously affect him and his family.

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NFFE meets with Secretary of Labor
NFFE meets with Secretary of Labor in Washington, DC, March 16, 2022. Left to right: Max Alonzo (NFFE), Bob Beckley (NFFE), Hannah Coolidge (USFS Hotshot), Marty Walsh (Sec. Of Labor), Dane Ostler (USFS – Prevention), Ben Elkind (USFS – Smokejumper), Randy Erwin (NFFE – President) and Jeff Friday (NFFE).

Some progress has been made over the past year in establishing a list of suspected illnesses for firefighters.

Pending legislation would create a presumption that firefighters who are disabled by certain serious illnesses contracted them on the job, including heart disease, lung disease, certain cancers and other infectious diseases. The bipartisan Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, HR 2499, passed the House of Representatives in May and is now in the Senate.

In April, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) compiled in FECA Bulletin #22-07 a list of cancers and medical conditions for which the firefighter does not need to show proof that their medical condition was caused by an on-the-job injury.

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Consider telling your senators and representatives to pass the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act, HR5631. The bill’s name honors smoke jumper Tim Hart, who died in a fire in New Mexico in 2021. (More on the bill.) And ask your senators to pass the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, HR 2499.

You may wish to donate to the gofundme account set up by the Redmond Smokejumper Welfare Organization to help Ben and his family.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full-time in Wildland Fire for 33 years, he continues to learn and aspires to become a student of fire. View all posts by Bill Gabbert

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