SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Firefighters battle brutal conditions to save our lives, and those conditions are causing life-threatening diseases.

Western Mass News reported about the toxins first responders face that cause deadly diseases such as cancer, and now, Parkinson's disease.

Westfield firefighter Greg Heath, 46, went from overnight alarms and saving lives, to a new wake up call keeping him alive.

"Every three hours this thing goes off," said Heath.

In 2014, Heath was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, ending his 22-year career as a firefighter.

"The first thing I noticed was the tremor," said Heath.

"Parkinson's disease in general is known as a nuerological disorder," said Dr. Faris Sichani.

UMass Medical Center neurosurgeon Dr. Farid Sichani said the disease, which affects dopamine-producing neurons, impacts more than just movement.

"It effects the way you think, the way you sleep, and it's a pretty complex disease," Dr. Sichani noted.

Parkinson's isn't genetic for Heath. His young onset may point to firefighting as a cause

"The toxins we encounter on a fire," Heath added.

Sichani added, "It is very much possible that the risk of disease is much higher in firefighters. Based on the nature of their work, they notice the symptoms maybe earlier."

"The studies show from Parkinson's is 1 in 30 firefighters are diagnosed with Parkinson's," said Paul Jacques, a legislative agent for the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, also known as P.F.F.M.

Jacques said everything that burns nowadays is extremely toxic.

"It's not like the old days where it's just wood and paper. Now anything burns with all the carcinogens, plastics, anything we use today like electronics," Jacques explained.

Tim MacMillan, 51, was a Spencer volunteer firefighter from 1995 to 1998. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's at age 46.

MacMillan's firefighting father died at age 61 from the disease.

MacMillan told Western Mass News four others they worked with all died from Parkinson's as well.

"Definitely Parkinson's is a career ending disease," said Jacques.

As of now, there's minimal support for firefighters who go out on disability with this diagnosis.

With no cure, medication or surgery is necessary.

"With no legislation at this moment, they'd go out on regular disability and they'd be responsible for co-pays, deductibles, the things that can make you lose your health and put you in poverty," Jacques added.

"My Parkinson's medication isn't cheap. It's way over $900 for a 90 day supply," said MacMillan.

Heath and the P.F.F.M. are fighting for legislation with house bill 1455.

"The bill shows it would be a work related injury. It would provide benefits and pay and retirement going out on a work related injury," said Jacques.

Although stalled in Beacon Hill last year, the bill will be taken up again this year.

"The fights still in me because I've seen what it's done to other firefighters and how they need that help so I'm going to continue with that," said Heath.

For more information on the bill, and how you can help, please visit the link here.

Copyright 2019 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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