I appreciate your interest in the crisis of cancer amongst firefighters, as mentioned in your November 19th article (Florida law would assume all cancer caused by job for firefighters, is that fair to taxpayers?) in the Sun Sentinel. After viewing the video of the Editorial Board with the Florida League of Cities representatives, and hearing your questions to them, it was clear that the Editorial Board is well aware of the scientific evidence showing increased risk of cancer amongst firefighters. Why this wasn’t relayed in the article along with the Cities’ apparent lack of recognition and prevention efforts is beyond my comprehension.
If a recently introduced bill, which recognizes an increasing number of firefighters battling cancer is newsworthy, surely the reasons for the bill are just as newsworthy. Why are firefighters who are responding to more and more EMS incidents, leading healthier lifestyles, wearing breathing apparatus, subject to annual physical exams, etc. continuing to develop cancer at higher rates than the general public? Is their gear not protecting them from the carcinogens that they absorb through their skin? Are the fires becoming more toxic due to the chemicals and synthetic materials in our homes? Are the firefighters themselves, being educated on these hazards? Are the employers utilizing best practices to
protect firefighters from these toxic exposures? What are the employers and their Fire Chiefs doing to encourage safety and prevention? Can the State of Florida improve upon its Firefighter OSHA standards? These are just some of the questions that we need answered.
Although your article did not address these important questions, the Florida Legislature and Governor felt that the issue was important enough to enlist the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to research some of these very questions with an appropriation to fund a
firefighter cancer study. We applaud the Legislature and Governor Scott for recognizing this growing problem and look forward to the results, next year.
As for the bill being intentionally broad, the Florida Professional Firefighters have committed to assist the Senate and House sponsors to improve the bill to address the Cities and their colleagues’ concerns with some of the very issues that you raised. That being said, we would like to address some of the specific aspects of your story with which we take issue. The implication that there would be “no questions asked” and “If a firefighter or paramedic comes down with cancer, it was caused by the job. Period.” is simply untrue. The bill (SB 456) states, “Any condition or impairment of the health of a firefighter…which is caused by cancer and results in total or partial disability or death is presumed to have been accidental and to have been suffered in the line of duty unless the contrary is shown by competent evidence.” That language surely allows “questions” to be asked. The article also insinuates that merely a “diagnosis” is required to “receive worker’s comp plus permanent disability which, depending on the city, would pay 90 to 100 percent of his [her] salary.” As shown above, the cancer must “[result] in total or partial disability or death” for the rebuttable presumption to apply. The taxpayers can rest assured that the article’s implied windfall of a cancer diagnosis does not result in automatic financial benefits for the recipient of the life threatening disease. The firefighter must also die or be disabled to be eligible for those benefits. Death or disability from cancer is, by no means, an enviable gift from the taxpayers. The suggestion is absurd.
This brings me to the most offensive statement made in your article and my primary reason for this letter: “What a deal. Sign me up.” As public employees, firefighters are entrusted with the taxpayers’ funds, we are invited inside their homes, and to care for their loved ones, therefore we are subject to their scrutiny, both, in the sunshine of Florida Government and in the press. We accept this scrutiny and have thick skin and big shoulders. It comes with the territory and we are not easily offended. HOWEVER, your insinuation that the firefighters are looking for a “deal” to “sign up” for and that “deal” happens to be a line of duty cancer presumption is insulting, at best. Even if this bill were to become law, as written, I can’t think of a firefighter (or anyone, for that matter) anywhere that would consider it a “deal” that they would want to “sign up” for. We know all too well what that “deal” comprises. We have witnessed our friends, coworkers, brothers, sisters, young and old be diagnosed, fight, falter, suffer, and die from this horrible disease. The extent of the crisis is demonstrated by the existence of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. This organization, which offers assistance and guidance to firefighters battling cancer, should not be needed. God bless them.
To use the article’s terminology, here’s a “deal” that we will “sign up” for: Continue to fund research on firefighter cancer. Find out what toxins these fires are creating and how the carcinogens are permeating our protective gear. Develop gear that actually protects our bodies from these hazardous chemicals. Institute best practices for firefighter safety and create real ramifications for employers that ignore them. And, finally, when a firefighter does everything right, yet is stricken by a form of cancer that science has proven was, most likely, caused by their job, TAKE CARE OF THEM and their widows, widowers, and children should they tragically die through no fault of their own, other than their choice of a noble profession.
If you are interested in learning more or reporting about the facts associated with the firefighter cancer problem, do not hesitate to contact us. As the voice of nearly 25,000 professional firefighters in Florida, we will make ourselves available for any future Editorial Boards, as well, if you would like to hear the firefighters’ viewpoint on the issue.
Florida Professional Firefighters
345 West Madison Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301
The Washington Post article was reprinted locally in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune last week. In response, Suncoast 2546 President & FPF 7th DVP Merv Kennell submitted a Letter to the Editor, which was printed yesterday:
Sarasota Herald-Tribune - Friday, October 16, 2015 - Page A8
Letters from our Readers
Beyond fighting fires
I am a lifelong resident of Sarasota and a recently-retired, 35-year veteran firefighter. I read with great interest your re-publication of the Washington Post article “Fewer fires, so why are there more firefighters?” The title seemed misleading as it disregarded all other aspects of a firefighter’s job, except for fighting an actual fire.
Today’s firefighters are involved in perpetual, required daily training, equipment maintenance, pre-plan inspections, responding to vehicle and construction accidents, performing above- and below-grade rescue, providing hazardous-materials mitigation and, perhaps most importantly, providing basic and advanced life-support care and transport to local hospitals.
It was disappointing to hear the agenda-based conclusions of the author, some inaccuracies pertaining to our local Fire/EMS service, and his misrepresentations of the International Association of Fire Fighters’ position on this important public safety matter. It seems only fair to print the IAFF’s position so that readers have both perspectives. The IAFF’s position is stated on this link:
Our community enjoys the most efficient and effective emergency medical services model through cross-trained firefighters who provide both fire protection and EMS. We actually need to add
more firefighters and paramedics to keep pace with our growing population and demand.
Mervin R. Kennell
Please make sure you link to and share these articles with friends, family and supporters of public safety -- the attacks on us and those we serve are not over.
We are asking for your help for one of our Brothers in need. Donald and Kara Bunch are at All Children’s Hospital with their 8-Week old son who is fighting a battle against a tumor that is attacking his platelets and blood clotting factors.
Donald Bunch is a Captain at North River Fire District, and his wife Kara is a Nurse at Manatee Memorial Hospital. They both are off of work and are living up at All Children’s with their son. The members at NRFD are covering Donald at work through shift exchanges and donation of their sick/vacation time. Kara however, has used up her PTO time at work due to the pregnancy and will not be collecting a pay check until she is able to return to work, if at all. As you can imagine this is all very overwhelming and stressful for the family, both emotionally and financially.
Donald and Kara's brothers and sisters at NRFD have started a GoFundME account in which anyone can contribute, to help assist them in this difficult time. The money raised is going directly to help with their medical bills and any other expenses they may incur. You can stay up to date with Baby Jax’s story through the go fund me site, where there will be updates often, or through Donald or Kara’s Facebook page, where they usually post daily updates.
You can also help baby Jaxson in his fight against Kaposiform Hemangioendothelioma tumor and #KICKTUMORBUTT by purchasing shirts from Teespring here.
Thank you in advance for your kind and generous support and for keeping the Bunch Family in your thoughts and prayers in this most difficult time.
Please forward this flyer and post around to anyone you know who may be willing to help.
We have some new Local 2546 coming into stock. They are the Black distressed look with Logos on front and back. The long sleeve Grey with Logo front picture back and new flex fit hats. Prices are Distressed Shirts $10.00 - Long Sleeve Shirts $17.50, and Hats are $19.00
As noted in the January edition of Straight Streams you need to fill out an address exempt form if you are so requesting. the link below takes you to the form you can print and fill out to exempt your address under Florida Statute.
FireRescue1 has created our own iPhone application that provides officers a FREE resource for breaking firefighter news, tactical tips, photo reports and the entire archive of expert FR1 columnist articles on Apple iPhone or iPod touch devices.
Thanks for all your enthusiasm and hard work! Remember, when placing signs make sure that they are located on the designated property and not in the County right-of-way. If you have any questions when putting signs up, call your DVP or the candidate's representative for advice.
The following candidates have asked if our members would be on the lookout for improperly placed signs and either collect or reposition them as needed:
Stephen R. Deutsch - Charlotte County Commissioner - District 4
(This list will be updated as candidates request to be added)
MANATEE COUNTY - Driven mostly by concerns over low pay, Manatee County Sheriff's deputies could vote soon on whether to form a union and affiliate with Florida's powerful Police Benevolent Association. Read More...
Lt. Sam P. Dreher II is not alone. Charlotte County firefighters are taking turns standing guard over Dreher’s body. Charlotte County Fire/EMS spokeswoman Dee Hawkins said they will continue to stand beside Dreher until his burial Saturday.
Dreher, 39, was shot outside a Sarasota apartment Saturday by his estranged wife’s boyfriend, Michael Minor, 27, authorities have said. Dreher died from his injuries Sunday.
The 18-year veteran of Charlotte County Fire/EMS will be remembered at a visitation today from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Larry Taylor Funeral Home, 1515 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda.
A service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center in Punta Gorda. Burial will follow at Charlotte Memorial Gardens, where Dreher’s father is buried, said Taylor.
The Charlotte County Fire/EMS Honor Guard will be present at the service Saturday, along with honor guards from other agencies, Hawkins said.
The sudden, shocking death of Dreher — known as Sammy — has greatly affected his fellow firefighters and paramedics.
“We’re just taking care of each other, checking on each other,” Hawkins said.
Dreher’s Battalion Chief, Jon Miller, has “shown a tremendous amount of support,” Hawkins said, as have Battalion Chiefs Mark Crigler and James Stillwagon.
“Everybody’s suffering the loss,” Hawkins said. “Everyone’s feeling the pain.”
Critical incident stress management teams are working with crews at each of the fire stations across Charlotte County, Hawkins said.
“We’ll get through this as a group together,” Hawkins said. “Sammy was such a wonderful person.”
Dreher, a North Port resident and a graduate of Charlotte High School, worked as a firefighter and paramedic, in addition to serving on the Marine Operations Team. He also worked for the Punta Gorda Fire Department prior to Charlotte County Fire/EMS.
Memorial donations in Dreher’s honor can be made at any Sun Trust Bank to Firefighters for Kids of Charlotte County.