TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida firefighters who lost their lives last year were honored at the state Capitol this morning as part of an annual state ceremony. Some of those deaths were attributed to COVID-19.
Among the 18 firefighters honored in this year’s ceremony, we’re told three died from COVID-19 infections, acquired in the line of duty.
“This marks their final call,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis.
Top Florida fire officials tell us the bar to qualify as a line of duty COVID-19 death is high.
“It’s a tough process and it’s heartbreaking. It’s truly heartbreaking,” said Rick Butcher, chairman of the Florida Joint Council of Fire and Emergency Services.
State Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff has seen firsthand in her community how high the bar truly is.
And, unfortunately, families of first responders who have died from the coronavirus are facing obstacles collecting the benefits they believe they’re owed.
“We’ve actually had two officers that have passed away from COVID-19 recently, one leaving behind a wife and four kids and they’re being denied his death benefits,” said Fetterhoff.
It’s why she’s sponsoring legislation that would ensure first responders who acquire COVID-19 in the field will qualify for compensation.
“COVID is a direct, something that they’re dealing with directly, and they need to be taken care of,” she continued.
Under the governor’s previous emergency order, first responders had these protections, but they lapsed when the order expired.
Fetterhoff’s bill has already garnered the support of Florida’s fire marshal.
“Wouldn’t be even opposed if they wanted to make it retroactive to January one 2020,” Patronis said.
Fetterhoff had this message for any group thinking of standing in the way of her legislation: “Anybody that puts themselves out there as being against this, you know, they’re in the line of fire then.”
It’s unclear exactly how many first responders have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in Florida, but scattered reports suggest the number is likely in the hundreds.
Under the legislation, first responders would still have to show some evidence that they acquired COVID during their time on the job.
A list of the honored fallen firefighters is below:
- Anthony C. Christensen – City of Naples Fire Rescue
- Donald DiPetrillo - Seminole Tribe of Florida Fire Rescue
- Lloyd Losinger - Ocean City-Wright Fire Control District
- Dwain S. Bradshaw – Escambia County Fire Rescue
- Scott R. Neumann – Martin County Fire Rescue
- Brian S. Smith – St. George Island Volunteer Fire Department
- Thomas M. Barber – Jacksonville Fire Rescue
- Hervè Thomas – Monroe County Fire Rescue
- David L. Abernathy – Palm Beach Fire Rescue
- Walter “Pete” Gee - Fort Myers Shores Fire Protection & Rescue Service District
- Randall M. Donaldson, Jr. – Osceola County Fire Rescue
- Jeremy J. Saunders – Orlando International Airport Fire Rescue
- William C. Donaldson – Sarasota County Fire Department
- Jeremy J. McKay – Clay County Fire Rescue
- James G. Gunter – Cape Coral Fire Department
- Michelle Clore – Cape Coral Fire Department
- Jimmy D. Riley – Plant City Fire Rescue
- Eric M. Siena – Orange County Fire Rescue