PLANT CITY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Plant City firefighter died this week after a long, hard battle with stage four brain cancer and now an awareness campaign is underway the discuss the health risks linked to his job.
Jimmy Riley, 40, died Wednesday.
He worked at Plant City Fire Rescue for 17 years.
After consistent headaches, he was diagnosed with Gioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a kind of fast-growing brain tumor, in 2018.
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” said Deputy Chief Vincent Kiffner. “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.”
Leadership at Plant City Fire Rescue describe Riley as a go-getter.
“Amazing guy, always gave his all. Would do anything for anybody and always reliable,” Battalion Chief Chris Rodriguez said.
Through the years, fellow firefighters held fundraisers to help pay for Jimmy’s medical costs.
Riley worked until December 2020, most recently as a driver engineer.
After that, his health took a turn.
“Last time we saw him, he was there but he couldn’t verbalize things, couldn’t really walk much, Deputy Chief Kiffner said.
Riley is survived by his wife and daughter.
“When it hits home, like it is now, here within the fire-rescue department, you’re going to do everything you can do,” Plant City Fire Chief David Burnett said.
With Riley in mind, Chief Burnett says the department has introduced new protocols to lessen the chance of his firefighters getting cancer, including enhanced protective gear and exhaust systems.
“We’ve changed our standard operating procedures for decontamination. We’re buying wipes to wipe ourselves after structure fires,” Chief Burnett said.
After his diagnosis, Riley regularly spoke out about the connection between getting cancer and fighting fires.
“Jimmy, when he was first diagnosed, pushed that message out there that ‘Hey this is a real thing’,” remembered Chief Burnett.
“We don’t know what we’re breathing in, fumes, smoke things like that. It’s definitely hazardous. The things that we can’t see is what we’re finding that’s hurting us,” Battalion Chief Rodriguez said.
In 2019, the state of 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,” said Battalion Chief Rodriguez.
A celebration of life will be held March 12 to honor and remember Jimmy Riley.
On March 27, supporters are hosting the Riley Strong Golf Tournament. All proceeds go towards Riley’s family.