By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The big question of cancer is a tough one for firefighters because of their camaraderie--it's one of the few careers in which the workers live with one another on the job. One of Bielecki's closest friends is Gary Pykare, the Phoenix fire captain whose cancer recently returned.
"It's gonna be a tough go for the poor guy," Bielecki says.
Pykare first contracted soft-tissue cancer in 1977 at the age of 36, more than a decade after he had joined the department. Long-buried fire department records indicated that he was exposed several times to carcinogenic pesticides and other hazardous materials while fighting fires. In 1988, after radiation treatments and remissions, Pykare filed a workers' compensation claim with the state for what he considered job-related cancer.
"When you mix some of these concoctions under the heat," Pykare told New Times in 1988, "you come up with chemicals that no one's ever seen before. If you tell me I didn't get this on the job, you're nuts."
But the Industrial Commission of Arizona--the agency that rules on compensation disputes between workers and employers--rejected Pykare's claim. Proving the direct cause of cancer is a lot more difficult than, say, determining how a leg got broken.
"We have a very difficult problem of proof in the workers' comp setting," says Pykare's lawyer Sandra Day. "Doctors can't make the same leap of faith in disease cases that they can in other cases."
"If we see that the cancer rates are way up there, we'll ask for more money to look into it. If the rates aren't there, we'll have a hard time justifying it.