TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s the battle firefighters face everyday that many of us don’t see – cancer.
“I’m not a firefighter but both my brothers were and I know the risks that they take on,” said Travis Horn, spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Firefighters Union.
Horn lost his brother, Lt. Michael Wayne Horn to Melanoma on New Year’s Eve in 2002. Horn’s other brother, Lt. James Faron Horn, is currently fighting Spindle cell sarcoma. Both of Horn’s brothers worked for the Orlando Fire Department.
“Just like anyone, you are scrambling to cover funeral costs and make sure everything is paid. There is a lot of added stress on the family,” said Horn.
As of Monday, all Florida firefighters diagnosed with cancer will be getting some much-needed help as Senate Bill 426 is enacted into law. The bill provides firefighters who are battling cancer with several benefits. It also covers the total cost of treatment, a $25,000 payout, disability pay and death benefits for beneficiaries.
Horn, along with his family, has long advocated in order to see that these benefits become a reality.
“This hidden risk, this hidden danger is something we never really acknowledged as a society and I think that now we are saying, hey, we know this is something you have to worry about and we are going to stand by you and have your back,” said Horn.
Each day firefighters are exposed to toxins and carcinogens that can generate poisonous, life-threatening smoke. The new law now recognizes cancer diagnosis and cancer deaths as though they were an on-the-job injury or a job-related death.
“Back in the day, firefighters use to wear it as a badge of honor, that their bunker gear and turnout gear was dirty and smokey and had soot on it. Nowadays, they know leaving it on there and letting it touch your skin can activate some of these cancers. We don’t want to have firefighters fight to have to get their benefits and this is opening the door to ensure they don’t have to fight,” said Horn.
A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study reported that firefighters have a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population.
The International Association of Firefighters claims that cancer is now the leading cause of death among them. According to the association’s Line of Duty death database, there have been four firefighter cancer deaths reported between 2018 and 2019.