Florida lawmakers address ‘silent killer’ taking the lives of firefighters

Bill filed by state Sen. Aaron Bean would create grant program to give Florida fire departments access to decontamination equipment

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – A bill filed for the 2020 legislative session would create a grant program to ensure fire departments across Florida have access to decontamination equipment and training to use it.

On Thursday, State Sen. Aaron Bean unveiled Senate Bill 1092 to state and local leaders at Nassau County Fire Station 20.

The legislation aims to cut down on harmful contaminates. Firefighters are often exposed to burning plastics and synthetics, which release carcinogens. Nationally, according to studies, those in the profession face a 14 % increased risk of cancer death.

“This is a silent killer this happening to young firemen over the state," said firefighter safety advocate Ashley Harvey.

Harvey lost her father, a 34-year career firefighter, to cancer. She showed photos of her father, Floyd, at age 43 and at 55, two months before he passed away.

“You can see the difference is quite grand," Harvey said. "He looks more like a 25-year difference than a 12-year difference.”

Photos of Ashley Harvey's father, Floyd, at age 43 and at age 55. (WJXT)

Harvey, who has lobbied for years for more firefighter cancer awareness, spoke Thursday in support of the decontamination bill.

“After I watched my dad fight cancer and still go to work and get on the truck, sick, I couldn’t allow another daughter to watch her father be so sick and fight for something that they got because of their job with very little support from the state," she said.

If passed, Bean said, the bill would create the grant program giving all Florida fire departments access to decontamination kits. The funds would be distributed based on need and a minimum 25% local match.

“It could be a washer and dryer to wash these toxins off. It could be other types of hoods that prevents them from breathing in these toxic fumes to begin with," he said.

State Sen. Aaron Bean spoke Thursday at Nassau County Fire Station 20. (WJXT)

The bill is gaining bipartisan support and Bean discussed the program grant with community members on Thursday in an effort to keep the momentum.

Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters, said having the discussion is the first step, but he hopes that the bill can standardize better practices to prevent exposure.

“What we’re trying to do is change that culture," Wyse told News4Jax ahead of Thursday’s discussion in Nassau County. “That dirty gear is one of the largest chances you have of getting cancer. You’re constantly putting on gear with carcinogens on it and over the years, some of that can turn into cancer.”

A different bill that passed recently in Florida guarantees health care benefits to firefighters diagnosed with certain types of cancer, covering them for 21 different types.

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