ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - When firefighters run into burning buildings, they are bombarded by toxic material and fumes, which puts them at much higher risk for developing cancer.
Recognizing this, a new state law was passed to provide more benefits to firefighters diagnosed with certain types of the disease. It took effect July 1.
A St. Petersburg firefighter is putting the law under a microscope, taking the city to court after they denied him those benefits.
Lt. Jason Francis has been fighting fires in the city of St. Petersburg for 16 years. Now he’s fighting for his life against thyroid cancer.
Lt. Francis was diagnosed with one of 21 cancers covered by the new state law, which should provide additional benefits to firefighters who face a higher risk of cancer than the public.
“He applied for benefits under the statute on its effective date, July 1, 2019,” Francis’ attorney explained. “According to the city, Lt. Francis is not entitled to any of the benefits that are enumerated in the statute.”
The city says Lt. Francis’ cancer diagnosis may have come six months too soon. They denied his claim.
Francis' attorney says the law, however, is not clear on that point.
“There’s no magic in this statute that states you have to be diagnosed after July 1, 2019,” he said. “There is no wording in the statute that says there’s no retroactive application of the statue to people who were diagnosed prior to July 1. So it’s silent.”
Frances believes he deserves the benefit and is ready to fight for it in court.
“I thought they would treat me like a human asset, and not a financial liability,” Lt. Francis said.
His lawsuit requests the city provide the benefits stated in the law.
Francis, who hopes to return to work after treatment, wants the city to “do the right thing.”
The city's decision may not be final. It is looking to the courts to sort it out and told Francis it hopes to have further direction soon.