JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Cancer is now being treated like an on-the-job injury for firefighters after the Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill this month that expands firefighters' benefits.
On Wednesday, Chief Financial Officer and Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis visited Jacksonville, where he spoke alongside firefighters' families about the new legislation signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Among the firefighters who joined Patronis was Jeremy McKay, who was diagnosed with stage four cancer eight months ago. His adenocarcinoma is one of 21 types of cancer covered by the bill.
"It started as stomach cancer, it spread through my lymph nodes and my liver, and now it's in my pancreas also," said McKay, adding that it was therapeutic for him to help push Senate Bill 426.
The bill helps firefighters suffering from cancer pay for the full cost of treatment, provides them with a $25,000 payout, in addition to disability pay and death benefits for their beneficiaries.
"The prognosis is terminal," McKay said. "There is no cure for it, it's really a matter of time."
Compared to the average person, firefighters have a 15-percent higher chance of getting cancer, Patronis said. He added that this bill will help provide them with much-needed support right away.
"This bill will essentially pay for their deductible, give them some working money to be able to take the time off to get the necessary treatments to get better," Patronis said at Wednesday's gathering.
Unfortunately, when it comes to cancer, the odds aren't on firefighters' side. In fact, as Mayor Lenny Curry pointed out, more than 70 percent of firefighter deaths are linked to cancer.
A similar version of the same bill failed to secure the necessary votes in the past, but this time it cleared the state Senate with a unanimous vote.
"The Legislature made the fight, so better late than never," Curry said.
The mayor noted that local firefighters recently received decontamination kits to help remove any carcinogens on their gear, as well as specialized washing machines and dryers for their uniforms.
For families like McKay's, this means other firefighters and future generations of first responders will stand a much better chance of fending off and overcoming the disease.
"Our government has stepped up to say, 'We are going to take care of the firefighters and protect them and offer their families support,'" said McKay's wife, Tonya. "To us, that's a big deal."