Firefighters are nine percent more likely to develop cancer than average people, and fourteen percent more likely to die from it. This is why thirty-four states have something called the Cancer Presumption Law. This law varies from state to state, but they basically protect firefighters from being terminated while on sick leave, allow them to file worker’s compensation claims for cancer, and ensure that their medical coverage is not canceled. Unfortunately, a firefighter in Florida is not lucky enough to live in a state that protects its first responders, and she is suffering greatly because of it.
Captain Maria Silva has been a Pasco County firefighter for fifteen years, and has dedicated her life to saving others. In the beginning of the year, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and was forced to use up all of her paid sick time under the Family And Medical Leave Act (FMLA). When all of her time was used up, she was put on inactive status and lost her medical coverage.
Now she has no job, no income, no medical coverage and she is fighting not only cancer, but also depression. Silva says that after being in and out of the hospital for the last year and losing her job, she doesn’t even want to get out of bed sometimes. Silva says:
If a firefighter is diagnosed with cancer throughout their career, what are we supposed to do? Continue working? We can’t, there’s not support for us here in Florida.
Pasco Fire and Rescue say that they offered to put Silva on light duty, but she said that it isn’t an option when she’s so sick:
I couldn’t work light duty and answer phones and be a normal employee when I’m nauseous, vomiting, and crying.
She said that if there is a spot available in a year, she can go back to work, but who knows what her health will be like when that happens. Silva isn’t the only one fighting cancer; Danielle DiBenedetto, an 18-year veteran of South Trail Fire District is facing similar problems.
A little over a year ago, DiBenedetto was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Since her diagnosis she has had part of her colon, 20 lymph nodes and her liver removed. Her disability leave is up soon and she has no idea if she will be able to return to work.
The most obvious way firefighters get carcinogens in their bodies is through smoke, but more and more researchers believe absorption through the skin is also a problem. A 2006 University of Cincinnati study found higher incident rates in firefighters of testicular cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and prostate cancer, plus possible increases in several others.
Florida firefighters and their unions have been actively fighting to change Florida’s law to protect firefighters, but so far it has not happened. In a state that can’t even get their crap together and pass a budget, it’s not surprising that the Republicans who run the state have failed to protect first responders. The right loves to claim that they care about the people who put their lives on the line every day to protect us, but when it comes time for them to prove that, they rarely do.
If you would like to donate to Maria Silva’s medical fund, click here.
Featured image via Bay News 9