ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis traveled to St. Pete on Wednesday to announce grant funding of more than $100,000 to help protect firefighters from contaminants that threaten their long-term health.
The funding will go toward equipment and training supplies to ensure that they're protected from cancer-causing contaminants, Patronis said during a press conference at St. Petersburg Fire Station No. 7 on 64th Avenue North.
"In 2020 we created the Cancer Decontamination [Grant] Program which provides our local fire stations and firehouses with the resources needed based on science in order to keep their workplace environment as safe as possible."
Through the program, Patronis awarded $132,905 worth of grants to 10 fire stations in the Tampa Bay area. The state leader has been an advocate for the Cancer Decontamination Grant Program, pushing for heightened funding for the initiative, which helps fire stations afford cancer-causing contaminant mitigation equipment.
Patronis said 50% of the deaths that occur for firefighters in the line of duty are "cancer-related." He said through the equipment bought to protect firefighters, they're "changing the culture" for best practices for firefighters.
During Wednesday's announcement, Patronis was also joined by St. Pete Fire Chief James Large, elected leaders and firefighting professionals.
Patronis said years ago he and other firefighters would be proud to show off how dirty they got doing their job. Large concurred, saying they're changing the outlook.
"A dirty helmet was a badge of honor and today, a dirty helmet is a sign that you're not doing something right, something's wrong," Large said.
St. Petersburg Fire Rescue, Pasco County Fire Rescue, Safety Harbor Fire Rescue, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach Fire Department, North River Fire District, the city of Sebring, Lake Alfred Fire Department, and Polk County Fire Rescue were among the agencies awarded.
The visit marks the latest stop in his multi-department tour. Last week, he went to a fire station in Ocoee, where he pledged $112,579 toward the purchase of safety equipment to protect firefighters from exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens.
For years, 10 Tampa Bay has reported extensively on the threats posed by carcinogens. When we were covering the dangers in 2019, cancer had been named the leading cause of death for firefighters, who are diagnosed at disproportionate rates.
For years, advocates fought to get state lawmakers to pass a bill that would offer protection and financial coverage for firefighters diagnosed with certain types of cancers. It stalled eight times between 2003 and its eventual passage after our reporting in 2019. Former 10 Tampa Bay anchor Allison Kropff spearheaded our coverage. You can watch her November 2019 piece below.
In March 2022, Florida lawmakers passed SB 838, which would further expand treatment eligibility by revising the definition of a firefighter to include fire investigators, allowing them better access to certain types of cancer care. The bill has not yet been delivered to Gov. Ron DeSantis' Office.
"When the governor receives this bill, he will make a decision after reviewing it in final form. Governor DeSantis has always been a strong supporter of Florida’s First Responders," Press Secretary Christina Pushaw told 10 Tampa Bay in an email.
Back in November, 10 Tampa Bay's Eric Glasser covered the opening of a series of new firehouses in Polk County that were specifically designed to reduce exposure to carcinogens. The county said it was spending $68 million to build 17 new fire stations with safety in mind.