News 6 investigation leads to call to expand coverage of cancers for firefighters – WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando

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Mike Holfeld, Investigative Reporter
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Mike Holfeld, Investigative Reporter
ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – When veteran Orange County paramedic Travis Brown was diagnosed with bile duct cancer last year, he was sure he would be eligible for financial help under SB 426.
Much to his surprise, his cancer was not on the list of 21 cancers covered under the legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2019.
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“I was shocked,” Brown said. ”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 (Bile Duct Cancer).
“You hear cancer you immediately think you’re going to die,” Brown said.
Doctors later detected cancer in his liver and that started a journey of bile duct surgery, chemotherapy and now an immunotherapy a treatment Brown called “more of a targeted therapy.”
“When I did my chemo I was in there from 7:30 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon,” he said. “My wife was by my side, it takes a lot (out) of you.”
There was also the financial strain. Although he had health insurance, once he used vacation and sick days he started draining his savings to stay afloat.
Last week, he retired because he was unable to return to the job.
Brown said he wants the law changed so no future Florida firefighter is told they have the wrong cancer.
“I’d like to get it changed so that if they have to suffer through this they’ll be no discrimination against them,” Brown said.
State CFO and Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said the legislation is built on reported cancers collected through various studies of firefighters across the country.
The data used did not show incidents of liver or bile duct cancer but Patronis said that does not eliminate future cancer cases from potential coverage.
“There’s a reason why they call medicine a practice,” Patronis said. “I think there’s an opportunity to take what we’re learning, the legislature just might have to expand the bill.”
Patronis said his office “would be supportive” of expanded coverage provided a member of the legislature files the addendum.
State Sen. Linda Stewart, an original co-introducer of SB 426, said she thinks the list should be expanded and welcomes the support of Patronis in moving the changes forward.
“In order to expand it (the list of applicable cancers) we must know what they are,” Stewart said. “It may be something that the study didn’t take long enough or go far enough and when you have examples like your report mentioned (bile duct and liver cancer) I think we should look to see if we should expand the types of cancer.”
The bill (Chapter 2019-21, L.O.F.) makes firefighters who are diagnosed with certain cancers eligible to receive certain disability or death benefits. Specifically, in lieu of pursuing workers’ compensation coverage, a firefighter is entitled to cancer treatment and a one-time cash payout of $25,000, upon the firefighter’s initial diagnosis of cancer. In order to be entitled to such benefits, the firefighter must:
The bill provides that the term “cancer” includes bladder cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, invasive skin cancer, kidney cancer, large intestinal cancer, lung cancer, malignant melanoma, mesothelioma, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, oral cavity and pharynx cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, rectal cancer, stomach cancer, testicular cancer and thyroid cancer.
If you know of a firefighter that was diagnosed with cancer not listed under SB 426 email the information to [email protected]
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News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even — state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.
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