Investigation 6 leads to call to expand cancer coverage for firefighters


ORANGE COUNTY, Florida. –When Orange County veteran paramedic Travis Brown was diagnosed with biliary cancer last year, he was sure he would qualify for financial assistance under SB 426.

To his surprise, his cancer was not on the list of 21 cancers covered by the legislation signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in 2019.

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“I was shocked,” he told News 6, “I just assumed all cancers were covered.”

Brown served 27 years as a firefighter paramedic in Orange County and admits he was stunned when doctors presented the diagnosis of cholangiocarcinoma (biliary cancer).

“You hear cancer and immediately think you’re going to die,” Brown recalls.

Doctors then detected cancer in her liver and it began a journey of bile duct surgery, chemotherapy and now immunotherapy, a treatment Brown called “more of a targeted therapy.”

“When I did my chemo I was there from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.,” he said, “My wife was by my side, it takes a lot of you.”

There was also the financial pressure although he had health insurance once he used the vacations and sick days he began to deplete his savings to stay afloat.

Last week he retired because he couldn’t return to work.

Brown told News 6 he wanted the law changed so that no future Florida firefighter would be told they have the wrong cancer.

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“I would like that to change so that if they have to go through this, they will not experience any discrimination against them,” Brown said.

State CFO and Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis told News 6 the legislation is based on reported cancer cases collected in various studies with firefighters across the country.

The data used did not show incidents of liver or bile duct cancer, but Patronis said that did not eliminate future cancer cases from potential coverage.

“There’s a reason they call medicine a practice,” Patronis said, “I think there’s an opportunity to take advantage of what we’re learning, maybe lawmakers need to expand the bill. “

Patronis told News 6 his office “would be in favor” of expanded coverage provided a member of the legislature tables the addendum.

State Senator Linda Stewart (D), the original co-initiator of SB 426, told News 6 that she believes the list should be expanded and welcomes Patronis’ support to push the changes forward.

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“In order to expand it (list of cancers) we have to know what they are,” said Stewart, “It may be something that the study didn’t take long enough or didn’t go far enough and when you have examples like your report mentioned (bile duct and liver cancer) I think we should see if we should expand the types of cancer.

The bill (chapter 2019-21, LOF) makes firefighters diagnosed with certain cancers eligible for certain disability or death benefits. Specifically, instead of pursuing workers’ compensation coverage, a firefighter is entitled to cancer treatment and a one-time cash payment of $ 25,000, upon the firefighter’s initial cancer diagnosis. To be entitled to these benefits, the firefighter must:

  • Be employed full time as a firefighter;

  • Be employed by the state, university, city, county, port authority, special district or fire control district;

  • Have been employed by their employer for at least five consecutive years;

  • Have not used tobacco products for at least five years; and

  • Have not held any other position in the previous five years, which has been found to create a higher risk of cancer.

The bill provides that the term “cancer” includes bladder cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, colon cancer, cancer of the esophagus, invasive skin cancer, kidney cancer, cancer of the large intestine, lung cancer, malignant melanoma, mesothelioma, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, cancer of the oral cavity and pharynx, cancer of the ovary, prostate cancer, rectal cancer, stomach cancer, testicular cancer and thyroid cancer.

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If you know of a firefighter who has been diagnosed with cancer not listed in SB 426, email them to [email protected]

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