Created: July 21, 2021 06:02 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Full-time firefighters are 10 times more likely to get Parkinson’s Disease than the rest of us, according to a study by the Neurotoxin Institute. Because of the startling statistic, New York State lawmakers have passed legislation to ensure those firefighters get the benefits they need as the illness progresses. Now, they’re just waiting to see if Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign the bill into law.
Marc Strazdins always knew he wanted to be a firefighter, even back in high school as part of an explorers program.
“We used to change bottles and clean equipment, help fix water problems stuff like that... so, I had an interest early on,” he told News10NBC.
Strazdins began his career as a firefighter in Brighton but quickly took a full-time position in the City of Rochester.
“When I worked at Engine 16, it was really one of the best times of my life, we were a busy company then," he says, “we would just go in, knock it (fire) down, I remember being young and it was just like get in there Marc and I'm like, let me get in there and go do what I have to do.”
About 10 years ago though, Strazdins started having problems putting his keys in his pocket. Then, he noticed a slight delay in movement on the right side of his body.
“I think when I started noticing things, I didn't want to put the crew in jeopardy like if I couldn't move my arm to open the nozzle all the way,” he remembered.
At the age of 41, Strazdins was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
“When you get on the job, you have to do a minimum of 20 years for your retirement and I hadn't yet so, that was a big concern,” he said, “like, am I going to get to 20? Am I going to be able to retire and have something or am I not gonna make it and we get nothing… no pension, no health benefits,” he said.
And as a husband and father of three, that was a difficult question.
“The stress, worrying about it, it is a lot,” Strazdins said.
Because of the size of the Rochester Fire Department, Strazdins was able to be moved to a desk job after his diagnosis and is now planning to retire after 23 years total on the job but before he does, he’s trying to help others who might find themselves in a similar situation.
According to a study conducted by the Neurotoxin Institute, three out of every 1,000 people in the general population are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease but that number jumps to 30 out of 1,000 for full-time firefighters. Researchers believe the increased use of plastics and other chemical compounds over the last several decades has drastically increased the types of exposure firefighters must endure when combating fires and the ingestion of some of those toxins has increasingly been linked to the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.
NYS Lawmakers have passed what’s called the “Presumptive Parkinson’s Bill” which says that any condition or impairment of health caused by Parkinson’s Disease that was not present at the time of entry, shall be presumptive evidence that the disease was related to the firefighters’ service. That designation could impact disability and death benefits for impacted firefighters.
Strazdins and a handful of others across the state who have been pushing for this legislation now just wait to see if Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign it into law. News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke reached out to Cuomo’s office for a response as to whether he intends to sign the bill, she has not yet heard back.
In the meantime, “I'm just gonna enjoy (life) we have a new granddaughter so, I’m going to spend time with her,” Strazdins said.
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