PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) — A Plant City firefighter who died following a years-long cancer battle in 2021 was honored in a national ceremony on Sunday.
Jimmy D. Riley Jr. was among five Florida firefighters and a total of 148 from across the country who were honored in the 2022 National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
The ceremony recognized firefighters who died in the line of duty in the previous year. Each firefighter’s name will be inscribed on a plaque, which will then become a permanent part of the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial, according to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
In an emotional moment, Riley’s wife and daughter – who was just 7 years old at the time of his diagnosis – were presented with an American flag that flew over the United States Capitol.
Riley worked for Plant City Fire Rescue (PCFR) for 17 years before he died at age 40. He was diagnosed with a fast-growing brain tumor called Gioblastoma multiforme (GBM) in 2018 after he reported getting consistent headaches.
PCFR leadership described Riley as a go-getter who would always give his all.
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” PCFR Deputy Chief Vincent Kiffner told News Channel 8 last year. “If you had to call him at 2 o’clock in the morning to drive 600 miles, he’d drive 600 miles at 2 o’clock in the morning.”
Riley had to step away from the fire department in December 2020. He was working as a driver engineer until his health took a turn.
The state of Florida considered his death to be in the line of duty because of exposure to cancer-causing toxins while on the job. Plant City firefighters told News Channel 8 that after his diagnosis, Riley regularly spoke out about the connection between cancer and a career of fighting fires.
“Jimmy, when he was first diagnosed, pushed that message out there that ‘Hey this is a real thing’,” PCFR Chief David Burnett said last year.
Through the years, fellow firefighters held fundraisers to help pay for Jimmy’s medical costs.
Report from February 2021
Chief Burnett said that in the wake of Riley’s diagnosis, the department introduced new protocols to lessen the chance of his firefighters getting cancer, including enhanced protective gear and exhaust systems.
In 2019, Florida passed a firefighter presumptive law that aims to cover medical bills and other costs for firefighters diagnosed with cancer. Twenty one forms of cancer are on the list, including brain cancer.
“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death within firefighters. I think it’s up to us as firefighters to be more aware,” PCFR Battalion Chief Rodriguez said last year.
President Joe Biden ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in observation of the ceremony until sunset on Sunday. You can watch the full ceremony here.