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Boots at the Capitol: Florida firefighters push for cancer benefits

Five hundred rubber boots lined the Capitol
Posted: 5:39 PM, Mar 07, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-07 18:21:23-05
Boots at the Capitol: Firefighters push for cancer benefits

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — It's not what you'd expect to see as you enter the State Capitol but these boots are there for a reason.

Each one representing a firefighter whose life was cut short by cancer.

Five hundred rubber boots, wear and tear visible on each pair, lining the steps of the Florida State Capitol. All filled with a card, some reading in honor, others still fighting.

"Two years ago, he stood with me," said Noell Saunders, who's husband died of cancer. "Today, I stand alone."

Noell Saunders recently lost her husband Jeremy to brain cancer.

"it makes me angry. Because he gave himself as a fireman," said Saunders. "He loved the profession, he loved being a fireman. Never did he think he was going to leave his family with nothing."

The International Association of Firefighters says cancer is the profession's leading cause of death.

"We hope that they look and realize that each set of boots sitting out here represents a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a parent and that they understand that this disease is impacting us on a daily basis," said Heather Mazurkiewicz, who helped organize the effort.

Like Jazlyn Zombo, a firefighter that once showed no signs of getting cancer.

"The doctor started going through my charts and saying, 'Where did this come from?' I said it came from my job," said Zombo, a two time cancer survivor who helped organize the effort.

After 17 years in the field she has beaten cancer twice.

"It's the best job in the world but we're suffering and we need help," Zombo asserted.

The placement of these boots is no mistake. When legislators walk through the doors of the Capitol to get their days started, they'll have to go through what the organizers call the graveyard.

The end goal is to inspire legislators to join 44 other states and pass a bill to extend healthcare coverage to firefighters diagnosed with cancer.

"We're doing our part to show that when if, not if, when we pass this legislation, we won't have to use it," said Mazurkiewicz. So that Florida firefighters are only filling those rubber boots with their feet.

Senator Anitere Flores and Representative Matt Willhite have filed bills in the house and senate to help provide financial support to firefighters battling cancer.

Part of the bills would also provide support for their families if they lose their battle against cancer.