Dozens of Georgia IAFF members granted a dying wish to one of their own by escorting Frank Martinez, a member of Atlanta Local 134, from a hospital to his home in Forsythe, Georgia, where he is now receiving hospice care.
Martinez, 45, has been battling stage 4 colon cancer for several years and is not expected to live much longer. Members from several Atlanta-area locals joined in the solemn procession on November 16 along 80 miles of highways from the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Regional Medical Center in Newnan, Georgia, back to Forsythe.
Martinez, a six-year member of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department’s Squad Four, wanted to see the squad’s new apparatus put into service a few weeks ago.
“Martinez was one of my guys on Squad Four and we had been talking at the hospital a lot about the new heavy rescue truck and how he would love the chance to see it. He was too sick to go to it. So we surprised him and brought it to him,” says Squad Four Captain Chip Newell, also with Local 134.
With permission granted from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and city fire officials, Newell, a close friend to Martinez, and several other IAFF members drove the new heavy rescue truck to the cancer hospital to meet Martinez. From there, the apparatus led a convoy out of the city toward Forsythe with Martinez traveling behind in an ambulance. Newell says fire fighters and apparatus awaited at several overpasses along the route to greet Martinez as he made his way home for the last time.
Atlanta’s WSB TV 2 provided coverage.
Martinez’s deteriorating health has been particularly difficult for Georgia members, who have been fighting hard to win cancer presumption in the state. Martinez, even as he battles the final stages of the deadly disease, joined the frontlines of that battle and was at the state capitol in February when lawmakers passed HB 216, Georgia’s Fire Fighters Cancer Bill.
“It may not come around to help me in time,” Martinez said at the time, “but if I can do something so the next guy in line after me is able to get help and maintain a job, then I’ll be pretty happy with that.”
But Georgia Governor Nathan Deal then vetoed HB 216 claiming it was too lenient. In issuing the veto, the governor said: “I am concerned that codifying an exception for one occupation at this relatively low standard of proof with no time limitation on diagnosis or restriction on eligible types of cancer is a broad solution for a problem not yet abundantly demonstrated in Georgia.”
Governor Deal’s veto has enraged Georgia IAFF affiliate leaders, though they are confident they will be successful in reintroducing cancer presumption next year. “We are working with the co-sponsors to re-introduce the bill in 2017 in hopes that we have enough votes to override a veto by the governor,” says President of Atlanta Local 134 Paul Gerdis.