St. Petersburg firefighter sues city after cancer benefits are denied

Pinellas County

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A new state law, Senate Bill 426, provides certain benefits to Florida firefighters if they get cancer.

Lt. Jason Francis, of the St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Department, thought he’d be covered after a thyroid cancer diagnosis, but quickly learned he wasn’t.

Now, Francis is facing a fight with the city.

“It’s kind of emotional, so I apologize,” Francis said, choking back tears. “I’m just not looking forward to the battle. I thought they would treat me like a human asset.”

Francis got horrible news earlier this year when he learned he has cancer. He thought the city would help pay for things after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill, specifically designed to help firefighters who get cancer.

“The principal benefit is assistance with all the out-of-pocket expenses that a cancer patient undergoing treatment would endure,” said Francis’ attorney, Robert F. McKee of Tampa.

Instead, the city extinguished his request, saying his diasnosis came in May of last year.

Francis and his attorney maintain it was this year, and even though the diagnosis came before the law went into effect, he deserves some help.

“It was a lot of emotion. Anger. Shock,” Francis said.

“As far as the city’s concerned, he’s out of luck. He’s out of luck,” McKee exclaimed.

Now, Francis and the city will battle it out in court.

“When you were told the benefits would be denied, what’s the first thing that went through your mind?” reporter Ryan Hughes asked.

“How much trouble it’s going to be, once they showed their cards,” Francis replied. “I wasn’t looking forward to the process.”

Francis has worked for the city since 2002, he said.

A St. Petersburg city spokesman sent the following statement to WFLA:

It is the Legal Department’s, City Human Resource’s, and Administration’s position that Lt. Francis does not qualify for the benefit under the law. His cancer diagnosis occurred in May 2018. The law went into effect July 1, 2019.  The language of the law is silent as to whether the benefit is retroactive and if so, for how long?  Further, the language is vague overall and contradictory in spots.  All the City seeks is for a court or the legislature to clarify the benefit.  St. Petersburg is not the only entity in Florida facing this issue.  Every municipality and fire district in the state is struggling with implementation.  The Legal Department is currently taking action to get clarification from the courts but it may take some time before we get an answer.

St. Petersburg city spokesman

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