New firefighter cancer benefit law goes into effect July 1

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Vocal cord cancer may have taken his voice, but retired Brevard County firefighter Jay Post still has a lot to say.

“It’s really in every department, in every state, in every city - firefighters are dying of cancer,” Post said, using an electronic larynx device.

Post was a firefighter for 33 years before retiring in 2012. Five years later, he was diagnosed with vocal cord cancer. He had his vocal cords removed in 2018 with a tracheostomy.

“Now I breathe through a stoma in my neck. And this is how my voice will be for the rest of my life,” Post said.

His story is just one which many firefighters can tell you. They’ve developed cancer after years of breathing dangerous chemicals associated with fires.

That's why Florida's CFO and Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis championed a law to help them.

“Now you know the state of Florida has got your back,” Patronis told firefighters in Tampa Tuesday afternoon.

Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that gives benefits to firefighters who are diagnosed with 21 types of cancers and helps them pay the bills during treatment.

"This bill will have a $25,000 check, cash that will be provided to the firefighter,” Patronis said.

Firefighter Jazlyn Zombo was diagnosed with cervical cancer and melanoma after less than 10 years on the job.

“My parents had to cash out their retirements to pay for my treatment because I had a lot of out-of-pocket expenses,” Zombo said.

It will also help Dwayne McKeaver, who is a firefighter with Southern Manatee Fire Rescue. He was first diagnosed with melanoma. Then came colon cancer.

“It means a lot to know we’re going to have coverage, even 10 years after we leave,” McKeaver said.

Over the last several years, firefighters have been more educated about the cancer dangers they take on in the role. Zombo explains it has to do with exposure to chemicals caused by things like burning plastics.

“We have a lot more synthetic materials,” she said. “It’s found in the contents of our fires, it’s found in the fire retardants. There’s over 267 different chemicals that are known to hurt us.”

Yet she says she wouldn’t change her job for the world.

“I love it, it’s the best job in the world,” Zombo says. “I’ll never quit.”

The new law takes effect July 1. The law does not apply to retired firefighters whose diagnosis came after retirement or to firefighters who have been a smoker in the five years prior to diagnosis.