ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — In response to the increased risk of firefighters getting cancer due to the exposure of carcinogens whilst on the job, Sen. Aaron Bean of the First Coast unveiled a new bill this week designed to help keep firefighters safe.
If passed, it would create a grant program so firefighters across the state of Florida can have access to decontamination equipment for their gear, a move that Pat Taaffe, a St. Johns County firefighter, says is a step in the right direction.
Taaffe has been a firefighter for 25 years. He recalls the devastating moment in his career when doctors diagnosed him with Stage 4 colon cancer back in 2015.
"Actually I started having problems using the restroom and I found out I had a baseball size tumor in my colon," Taaffe said. "I was scared to death, I will never forget, I asked the doctor am I going to die."
National statistics show firefighters face a 14 percent increased risk of dying from cancer. For Taaffe, the aggressive cancer had also spread to his liver, forcing him to undergo 12 rounds of chemo and extensive surgeries.
Fast forward nearly three years later, Taaffe is now cancer-free. He continues to fight fires, but he's also dedicated his life to spreading awareness.
"[Bean's bill] is a step in the right direction because dirty gear puts firefighters at a higher risk of cancer," Taaffe said. "It's important to let us have a full career. These guys have to do 30 years now to complete this job and in order to complete this career, we need to have these things to keep us safe."