Silent Killer: Firefighter links cancer to job

by: Lynnsey Gardner Updated:

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Every day Jacksonville firefighters are filling out new cancer surveys. The department is trying to get an estimate of how many active and veteran firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer.

Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department Lieutenant Ryan Bayliss, 35, has survived and hopes that his battle with this silent killer will help prove a connection between cancer and our local firefighters.

Bayliss never thought by the age of just 30 he'd be labeled a cancer survivor.

"I have a scar," Bayliss said. "They cut out about a little over a quarter, a half dollar size of full thickness out of my forehead. Right here on my temple, right in the region where my mask would go here."

He is convinced his job contributed, if not completely caused, him to develop cancer.

"I believed it was actually scar tissue from when I might have hit my head on something and I just went in to cure my curiosity about what this spot was on my forehead and found out after a biopsy it was cancer."

Bayliss was lucky compared with other firefighters. His basal cell carcinoma, or skin cancer, is one of the most common and one of the easiest to treat. He had surgery, missed two weeks of work and now goes for yearly checkups.

"I put 50 SPF on everywhere I go, on my arms, on my face, and wear a hat," he said. "I'm worried about getting it again. I'm worried about what it could lead to."

Action News told you 33 states have cancer presumptive legislation for firefighters, recognizing they are at risk for certain cancers because of the carcinogens and toxic gases they are exposed to while putting out fires and when clearing out burned structures.
Florida and Georgia still do not have this law.

"You're not getting workers comp, you're not getting anything. You're taking your time off you're taking your medical coverage and you're paying your deductibles to cover cancer that's work related."

The numbers collected by the firefighter cancer support network show the numbers of Florida firefighters getting cancer are spiking with 53 percent in Palm Beach County alone over three years. And 32 percent of the 2,000 studied in Miami over two years are also all diagnosed with cancer.

Jacksonville is working to get hard data on cancer prevalence starting with an online survey.

"It's cut and dry," Bayliss said. "Firemen are getting cancer. They can't deny facts. If they throw numbers out there, what you see is what they have. They can't deny that." 

The Jacksonville Association of Firefighters is conducting the survey online and via mail. So far they say they've received about 30 responses from active and current firefighters with cancer.