Anthony Labruzzo was a firefighter from Fort Myers Florida who loved to work out every morning and prided himself on his diet of chicken and vegetables. He was healthy, he thought, until doctors diagnosed a cancer usually caused by tobacco smoke. Labruzzo, 50, was not a smoker. The squamous cell carcinoma found in his throat was not covered by the Florida law that extends compensation to firefighters for diseases that affect their hearts and lungs. If a firefighter or emergency worker is diagnosed with tuberculosis, hypertension or heart disease, Florida workers’ compensation laws may allow them to receive their same wage under the Florida Heart and Lung law. But there is no coverage if the disease is cancer of the lungs.
Florida remains the largest of 21 states that doesn’t include cancer in its list of workers’ comp ailments. Firefighter’s organizations and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health hope to change that. A new national study will take into account 18,000 firefighters, both current and retires to assess the risks they face from smoke and chemicals in the smoke that they inhale on the job.
Labruzzo battled cancer but did not survive. According to a news story, he passed away in December 2009. Fellow firefighter, Don Stonestreet, 60, died of lung cancer one month after Labruzzo. The triathlete had been in perfect health before the cancer, says his wife.
When Lambruzzo was undergoing treatment at MD Anderson in Houston, doctors there were made aware of a fire at the Pep Boys tire shop in Fort Myers about ten years earlier. Labruzzo had been in the building the longest, breathing in the burning rubber from the tires. Doctors said that could have contributed to his cancer. Emerging science is showing that firefighters can breathe in toxins in the smoke and also absorb them through the skin. Without workers’ compensation, the medical bills are piling up for both widows.