By: Sophia Hernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News
March 7, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Hundreds from across the state of Florida gathered at the Capitol on Thursday as firefighters and their families encouraged lawmakers to pass legislation for unified cancer coverage.
Firefighter Tom Hill's passion for the cause started after two of his closest friends, and fellow firemen, were diagnosed with cancer,
"Two of them made a huge impact, that's why I am doing this now," he said.
Before his friends passed away, Hill says that they were aware that their families would not be protected by the state.
"Us as firemen, if we get cancer and we pass away, we're not worried about us, just take care of my family," Hill said.
The Orange County firefighter promised his comrades that he would trek 800 miles, from the Florida Keys to Tallahassee. Hill, along with other firefighters who accompanied him on his journey, carried the memorabilia of 1,400 fallen men and women.
"The sad part is that we have to come out here today. There's 500 boots, with 500 pictures in it. We have 50 mannequins of dead firefighters, and then 12 packs of 1,400 items being carried. So, that's over 2,000 symbols just to show that we have a problem and we are asking for help," he said.
The group that organized the display is trying to turn Florida into the 45th state to provide some sort of cancer coverage for families in the occupation.
"If we die, our family members are left with nothing. So, this gives us peace of mind that should we pass away from the occupational disease of cancer, that our families would be taken care of," said Heather Mazurkiwicz, the co-organizer of the event and a firefighter with the North Collier Professional Firefighters Local 2297.
Those in the field, like Tallahassee Fire Department Captain Mike Bellamy, hope that lawmakers understand their need.
"When I came on the job 20 years ago, it was the fire we worried about. Now it's the air we breathe, and those things that we're exposed to every single day on the job," Captain Bellamy said.
The group of firefighters is working hard so other firefighter families will not have to go through the same hardships.
Hill is hopeful that the lawmakers he spoke to listened.
"They seem like they really really cared and that made me feel good, that really made me feel good," he said.