9 Investigates: Politics blocking cancer protections for Florida firefighters

ORLANDO, Fla. — A plan to provide cancer protections to the families of firefighters is seeing widespread support in the Florida Senate, yet no action in the Florida House, potentially dooming the legislation that families say would provide them with peace of mind and bring the state in line with 45 other states.

Firefighting has always been a dangerous profession; however, new research is showing there is another concern for those who are called to this line of work: cancer.

Recent research shows firefighters are 9 percent more likely to develop cancer, and 14 percent more likely to die from the disease.


“During the course of their work, firefighters are exposed to harmful substances at the fire scene as well as at the firehouse,” wrote researchers from the University of Cincinnati in a 2006 report.  “At the fire scene, firefighters are potentially exposed to various mixtures of particulates, gases, mists, fumes of an organic and/or inorganic nature, and the resultant pyrolysis products.”

For firefighters, the reality has meant changes to their jobs, including keeping an extra set of gear and better cleaning of equipment to reduce exposure. However, the risk, especially for older firefighters remains; David Green is one of those firefighters.

“It is something we talk about a lot, it’s something our families are concerned about,” said Green, who has been on the job for three decades. “It concerns me, we think we’re doing everything we can to prevent injuries, we try not to put ourselves at risk whenever possible, unless there is a life to be saved.”

For firefighters like Green, the risk of developing cancer at the end of his career means putting his family’s financial security in jeopardy.

In response to those concerns, two bills have been filed in Tallahassee. The Senate bill (SB 426) has already been through two committee stops, receiving unanimous support in both. At its most recent hearing before the Senate Community Affairs Committee, state fire marshal and CFO Jimmy Patronis testified in support of the measure.

“As Florida’s State Fire Marshal, CFO Patronis is a constant advocate for our state’s first responders. He continues to be an ardent supporter of cancer coverage and the need for cancer prevention measures when it comes to our firefighters. It’s his goal to ensure this measure passes,” wrote the CFO’s office when asked about the bill.

Both bills would “make firefighters who are diagnosed with certain cancers eligible to receive certain disability or death benefits. Specifically, in lieu of pursuing workers’ compensation coverage, a firefighter is entitled to cancer treatment and a one-time cash payout of $25,000, upon the firefighter’s initial diagnosis of cancer.”

But, while the Senate bill is moving along, the House version has not been heard in a single committee, despite having more than 30 co-sponsors.

“The Florida House has overwhelmingly supported tax breaks for surviving spouses of first responders who died in the line of duty, as well as property tax exemptions for totally and permanently disabled first responders and surviving spouse,” wrote Speaker of the House Jose Oliva in a statement to 9 Investigates. “We take a backseat to no one in our appreciation for our firefighters and police. However, this is an issue best dealt with at the county level as each department faces varying levels of danger and exposure and counties are best equipped to tailor benefits to need within available resources."

Without support from the Speaker, the legislation’s chances of passing are doubtful.

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