Tampa firefighter's suicide sparks need for change

TAMPA, Fla. - (WFLA) - The suicide of retired Tampa firefighter Steve LaDue ignited a flame within his sister Megan Vila.

"We all grieved. This was my opportunity to grieve my brother and honor him because he was my hero," explained Vila.

Her mission? Change the state's workers compensation laws to provide more support for first responders.

Years of dealing with gruesome scenes left Steve LaDue emotionally wounded. It kept him off the job while he sought help.

Workers comp laws required he return and pay back the checks he received while out.

"We sat on this back patio with my brother when he told me how let down he felt when the system failed him," said Vila.

Vila carried a shocking message throughout the state.

"Firefighters are three times more likely to die of suicide than in the line of duty," she said.

This week, emotion spilled onto the floor of the Florida House of Representatives.

"I have to say I'm sorry to Stevie's mom, Linda," said Rep. Matt Willhite (D) Palm Beach. "Ma'am, you not only lost a son, you lost a public servant. You lost a friend. But why I say I'm sorry to you is the system failed you. And prior to today, we failed you."

Rep. Erin Grall (R) Indian River read a suicide note from her husband's firefighter cousin.

"Twenty-seven years of death and babies dying in your hands is a memory that you will never get rid of it," Rep. Grall stated as her voice cracked with emotion. "It haunted me daily until now. My love to my crew. Be safe. Take care. I love you all."

The bill providing first responders expanded PTSD benefits passed both the House and the Senate unanimously.

Ken Huff, Secretary-Treasurer of Tampa Firefighters Local 754 believes the Valentine's Day school shooting in Parkland brought to the forefront an example of what first responders deal with.

He calls the legislative action, "huge."

"It's like the community coming behind us now saying, 'hey do your job, but don't worry if it has an adverse affect on you physically or mentally. Now we're going to help you out,'" said Huff.

Megan Vila knows the expanded benefits come too late for her brother Steve. She believes they will help many other first responders.

"I know that he's looking down and he's proud of what we've accomplished and we're going to save lives because of it," she explained.

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