SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) – Job-related cancer is the number one cause of death for firefighters.
South Walton Firefighter Lt. Stephen Newsom is sharing his cancer survival story to bring awareness to the issue.
In April 2020, Newsom went to his doctor for what he thought was just shoulder pains. It turns out he had cancer.
“I think one year, two years prior to this and we were discussing this,” Newsom said. “What can we do to stop cancer within the fire service? Becoming more aware. And just two years later I end up with it.”
He was sidelined from firefighting for 8 months. During that time he had four rounds of chemotherapy, targeted radiation on his shoulder and a stem cell transplant.
“It was hard going through chemotherapy because of what it does to you and how it makes you feel,” Newsom said.
In October of 2020, Newsom completed his treatments and his cancer is now in remission.
“To finally reach the end of that and now I can get to recovery and try and get back what the chemotherapy took from me,” Newsom said.
Newsom is now back on duty, but he isn’t just fighting fires. He’s also battling to make sure cancer doesn’t affect his team.
“We didn’t know that,” Newsom said. “So now we are more aware of this that we have to clean our gear and stay clean. Clean our equipment better, keep clean cabs on our trucks.”
Cancer can be caused by carcinogens getting stuck to their gear.
This problem has become so common that the State Legislature is doing their best to provide aid to first responders.
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said the state has identified 20 common cancers for firefighters.
“We have put it in state law that if our firefighters contract one of these cancers the state of Florida has created provisions to make sure that they have benefits to help them fight off this terrible disease,” Patronis said.
Patronis said if you are a firefighter working in the state of Florida this benefit is automatically provided by your employer.
This benefit will be like another form of health insurance to pay for treatment.
“They’ve got our back and now it’s time for us to show that we’ve got their back,” Patronis said.
Newsom said South Walton firefighters immediately clean their gear after every call for safe precautions.
He said most fire departments in Northwest Florida are doing the same.