JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Firefighters face a host of on-the-job dangers, but the job-related hazard responsible for the overwhelming majority of firefighter deaths isn’t flames or smoke -- it’s cancer.
Now, cancer is being treated like an on-the-job injury for Florida firefighters.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was in Jacksonville on Thursday, alongside the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, to announce a nearly $50,000 grant to help the state’s firefighters prevent cancer.
"One day after another we’re going to change the culture of our fire stations and how they approach cleanliness,” Patronis said. “An incredible partnership with Firehouse Subs has been established today. We’re going to make some amazing news. We’re going to make a difference in every single life of every single firefighter in the state of Florida.”
The money will also help to continue the Cancer Exposure Decontamination Kits program and will fund 220 kits.
“This grant and these kits really symbolize a change in the culture of the fire service,” St. Augustine Fire Chief Carlos Aviles said. “Culture is a really difficult thing to change, but through this grant by being able to put one of these kits on every fire truck in the state of Florida, we know that this is a message from the top down that you have to do on-scene decontamination.”
Compared to the average person, a firefighter has a 15% higher chance of getting cancer. That’s why Florida is taking steps to help firefighters and their families.
"I was just a teenager, and I remember the doctors telling us the only people who get this cancer are firemen, and I’m lik, ‘Well, that’s odd.’ I never knew what it would turn into for me. I never knew that I would remember the words for forever, but it was awful,” said Ashley Harvey, the daughter of a firefighter who died from cancer. “My father grew up (with) the dirty gear was better (mentality), like the dirtier your gear, the better it was. And this allows us to now say, ‘No, the cleaner the gear, the better it is.’”
The grant comes after a state law passed in May that expanded benefits to help firefighters cover the cost of cancer treatment and medical care and support their families.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure, which helps firefighters suffering from cancer by paying for the full cost of treatment. It also provided them with a $25,000 payout, in addition to disability pay and death benefits for their beneficiaries.