JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. - Jacksonville Beach firefighters now have 30 lifesaving hoods for them to wear when they go into a fire.
The hoods help protect firefighters' skin from carcinogens released during fires, which is something standard hoods cannot do.
A 22-year-old college student is behind the gift. Katie Rose lost her uncle, Capt. Ronald Rabon, to cancer. He was only 44 years old.
"He has three beautiful little kids that I love to death and they all range from middle school to do starting high school. It's not fair that they have to grow up without someone as great as my uncle," Rose said. "My dad was overseas when I was little and Ronnie really stepped in. He was a father figure for me and my brother and is a great person."
Rabon died a little over a year ago, and in his honor, Rose decided to raise money to get cancer-blocking hoods for the Jacksonville Beach Fire Department, where Rabon worked, in an effort to better protect his co-workers from cancer.
"In the first place, why are you going to give something to someone who's putting their life on the line every day something so poor at protecting them when there is an option that is so much better?" Rose said. "Thank goodness for Hoods for Heroes for making a difference and letting people know."
Rabon's widow, Ashley Rabon, was there when the hoods were handed out to the department.
"I've heard around 70 percent of firefighters can possibly be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, but until it happens to your family, you don't realize the impact that it has and the fact that it's not a statistic," Ashley Rabon said. "Ronnie wasn't a statistic. He's not a number. He was a real person. He was our husband and father, brother, uncle. He was a part of our family."
To her, this is just a part of her journey after losing her husband. She is pushing for Senate Bill 426 to go through to secure cancer coverage for firefighters.
"My husband passed away with medical bills at $51,000," Ashley Rabon said. "He had insurance and he had disability coverage. He still had a mortgage to pay, still had regular bills. He still had to buy back his own personal insurance from the city to pay for his coverage."
Firefighters in Jacksonville Beach said they are grateful for everything Rabon's family is doing for them.
"It's definitely something that we think about every day coming to work -- the possibility of getting cancer, what we're exposed to," said Shawn O'Shell, a firefighter engineer.
Hoods for Heroes has already given hoods to St. Johns and Clay counties' fire departments.
Macclenny Fire Rescue also has 40 to 50 coming its way.
Currently, Hoods for Heroes is fundraising for Nassau County. It costs $125 per hood. Go to the Nassau County Fire-Rescue 3101 Facebook page or the Hoods for Heroes Facebook page, or click the posts below, for more information on how to help with that effort.
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