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Here’s what KTAR News learned in 2019 about firefighters battling cancer

PHOENIX – In July, KTAR News 92.3 FM started following the stories of Valley firefighters diagnosed with cancer and dealing with denied workers’ compensation from their cities.

In the original documentary “Fighting Fires and Cancer” — and associated series of in-depth stories — reporter Ali Vetnar and videographer Matt Bertram interviewed firefighters, medical professionals, lawmakers, politicians and others about what can be done for ailing firefighters.

Since then, developments have occurred both at the municipal and state levels.

Goodyear firefighter Austin Peck died Aug. 31.

In September, Glendale Fire Capt Kevin Thompson had his previously denied workers’ compensation claim reversed. Since then, his postponed stem cell transplant was performed.

The two other firefighters featured in “Fighting Fires and Cancer,” Goodyear’s Gilbert Aguirre and Casa Grande’s Peter Benzing, remain in legal battles over their benefits.

With a spotlight now shining on the untold stories, more firefighters approached KTAR News with similar stories of cancer diagnosis and denials. Public officials starting taking notice.

• In September, the city of Goodyear urged its insurance company to conduct a complete and thorough review of pending and recently adjudicated cases involving Dr. Jason Salganick, a Scottsdale-based oncologist. Salganick had been involved in many of the denied claims in KTAR News‘ reports. Salganick confirmed that he never linked a cancer to a firefighter’s job in the 20-30 cases he has evaluated.

• Four Chandler firefighters shared their cancer stories in October. Their claims are now pending.

• In October, the Industrial Commission of Arizona launched an online portal tracking cancer claims by first responders.

• A legislative ad-hoc committee led by state Sen. Paul Boyer started meeting in October with many key players from KTAR News‘ original documentary involved.

• Mesa Fire Capt. Bryan Jeffries, who attended the meetings and has dedicated much of his 27-year career to advocating for firefighters on health issues, was diagnosed with cancer in November.

• That epidemic reached the top of the Phoenix Fire Department when Chief Kara Kalkbrenner announced her own cancer diagnosis at the beginning of December.

• In December, the ad-hoc committee wrapped up its sessions by compiling a list of legislative recommendations they hope to see accomplished in this upcoming session. State Senator Heather Carter took the floor in a Senate room filled with firefighters promising them she would get the items across the finish line come 2020.

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