Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill granting benefits to fire fighters who develop cancer, making Florida the 47th state to recognize the disease as an occupational injury.
The legislation – pushed through both chambers of the Florida legislature this spring – marks a strong victory for the Florida Professional Firefighters (FPF), which has fought for more than 15 years to gain greater protections for members who develop cancer.
The bill was sponsored by state Representative Matt Willhite, an active fire fighter and member of Palm Beach County, FL Local 2928, and state Senator Anitere Flores.
“Today, Florida fire fighters and their families can rest a little easier knowing that their elected leaders on both sides of the aisle have their backs if occupational cancer strikes,” says General President Harold Schaitberger.
The law provides full coverage for cancer, including disability and death benefits and recognizes 21 cancers as linked to firefighting. Fire fighters who develop cancer will qualify for coverage if they meet certain criteria, including not smoking, a minimum length of service and no other employment in cancerous work settings.
The cancer coverage will be provided, not through a workers’ compensation claim as in many other states, but instead through an employer-provided group health plan. The coverage includes a one-time, lump-sum payment of $25,000 to fire fighters upon a cancer diagnosis.
The University of Miami released a comprehensive study detailing how fire fighters are developing cancer at a much greater rate than the public. Even with that information, the cancer bill stalled in the House. The FPF remained positive and diligent, organizing a call to action to keep fire fighters at the Capitol fully involved collecting petitions requesting that the House support the bill.
“We made sure everyone in the state legislature saw our fire fighters supporting cancer coverage, which then caught the attention of the Florida media,” says FPF President Jim Tolley, noting the legislation had gathered about 80 co-sponsors in the House – a majority.
Florida media began asking legislators why such an important and needed bill was not moving faster to the governor. The groundswell of attention appeared to compel House Speaker José Oliva to schedule a floor vote. From there, the bill sailed through both chambers on the final day of the legislative session and then to the governor.
“All of Florida’s professional fire fighters should be commended for their diligence and hard work in pushing this legislation through. They could have thrown in the towel, but no one gave up,” says 12th District Vice President Walt Dix.