Alumnus Michael Dodd aids firefighter’s cancer bill in Georgia

 By Rachel Grant

Alumnus Michael Dodd turned honoring the memory of his mentor into state public policy.

Battalion Chief of the Savannah Fire Department Forrest “Tod” Heil, Dodd’s mentor was 48 years old when he lost his battle to brain cancer in 2014. Dodd remembered Heil as very healthy with a wife and three children. He said the loss was devastating and he had to take a term off when it occurred. It was this personal connection that inspired Dodd to help with a proposed legislation to cover health and disability for firefighters who contract cancer.

After a lengthy process, which included a version of the bill being vetoed by the governor, Georgia HB 146 was signed into law on May 4.  Dodd said this bill is a firefighter relief bill, as opposed to a true presumptive bill.

“In that, firefighters diagnosed with cancer will be divided into category I or II, depending on severity,” Dodd said. “At this point an immediate payout will be made with a different dollar amount based on category.  This is to assist the firefighter and family with financial burdens. ”

Most states have presumptive legislation for certain cancers occurring at higher rates in firefighters.  With a 16-year career in the fire department, Dodd said presumptive legislation carves out firefighters as protected employees, who contracted cancer as a condition of their employment.

The HB 146 bill was a collaboration of several organizations including: Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), Association of City County Government (ACCG), consultants for the ACCG and GMA, Georgia state House and Senate representatives, Georgia Fire Chiefs Association, Georgia State Fire Fighters Association, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and various other local leaders.

Dodd has been heavily involved in his local union chapter. He has been with the Professional Fire Fighters of Georgia for four years and in May 2017 he was elected president of PFFG. The PFFG is the conglomeration of IAFF local chapters, in the state.  He has been a member of the IAFF for 16 years.  He was the local president for two terms. In Georgia, Dodd said there is a different situation where the local firefighters are in need of internal help and organization.

“The locals in Georgia are good, but there has been issues of participation by leadership for a period of time,” Dodd said. “As a local president, we did not need to go to the PFFG to assist in our issues, we made our own way.  As I became more involved in the PFFG, I saw the opportunity to make a difference at the state level.”

Classes in the Truman School have directly applied to Dodd’s work within the local union leadership, department planning, state union leadership and legislative actions. He said Dr. Angela Hull’s online course “Public Policy Processes and Strategies” allowed him to work through the details of how the bill can be constructed.

Dodd is the furthest from the left.

“The delivery method in summary sheets, elevator speech’s and proactive pursuit of lobbying were of extreme value.  In addition, Dr. Hull was more than willing to discuss aspects of this real world bill, with me as I moved not only through the course, but after the course was completed.  Her experiences and relation to my real time experiences helped me push what ultimately became HB 146, from behind the scenes with the author of the bill in the house,” Dodd said.

Dodd said he doesn’t view himself as the driving force behind this bill, but it was Hull’s influence and guidance of that course and the “Collaborative Governance” course that helped him tremendously.

“Dr. Hull will always have a special impact on my learning and professional career,” Dodd said.  “As a firefighter there are certain mores that tend to be followed, passing out compliments for doing your job isn’t one.  Compliments are reserved for special people who truly make an impact.  Dr. Hull is a class act and exceptional professor.”

For Dodd, there are a number of next moves for the PFFG and Georgia firefighters. He said there are plans on increasing the protections for firefighters to extend to heart, lung and communicable diseases.  In addition, he said they plan to evaluate the bill that was signed and determine if the coverage offered is enough.

“There is obviously a lot of political considerations in returning immediately to the cancer coverage,” Dodd said. “Lawmakers need to address the work that firefighters perform for the community.  With the advances in building materials, to include more polymers consisting of plastics and such.”

Additionally, Dodd said advances in firefighters’ safety gear allow for advancing further into a dwelling or structure that is on fire, increasing the health risk. As a healthy work group, he said firefighters are anticipated to have a significantly higher cancer rate and roughly 60 percent chance of contracting cancer over their lifetime.

“It is important to fight for your family.  Not only the sisters and brothers in the occupation, but those left behind when a member ultimately dies of cancer,” Dodd said. “Years of service, providing a public good, and have the government that employs us, turn their back is a sobering reality that needs to be addressed and remedied.”