By Cindy Jackson
January 13, 2020
Officially, the observance of International Firefighters Day for 2020 is May 4th – a day so designated since 1999.
But on the morning of January 7th at Station 20, located on First Coast Highway on the south end of Amelia Island, Senator Aaron Bean proclaimed the day as “Firefighter Appreciation Day.” He made that pronouncement to celebrate a victory that was 12 years in the making referencing the passage of a bill during the 2019 session providing firefighters diagnosed with cancer with disability payments.
But that’s not all. During the celebration, Senator Bean announced the introduction of Senate Bill 1092 and its companion bill in the House (HB 487) entitled “Fire Prevention and Control,” which relates to the decontamination of firefighter equipment. The Florida Legislature convened its 2020 session on January 14th. If passed, this legislation will “make sure [our firefighters] are not in harm’s way from the residual fire contamination that comes back with them,” said Bean.
The latest and greatest fire-fighting equipment was on display in the parking lot and every folding chair set up for audience members was taken as others took to standing in a semi-circle surrounding the makeshift stage. Senator Aaron Bean, Representation Cord Byrd, County Fire Chief Brady Rigdon, Fernandina Beach Fire Chief Ty Silcox, Commissioner Justin Taylor, Clerk of the Courts John Crawford, President of the Nassau County Fire-Rescue, Local 3101, Barron Ayscue, and other officials and local leaders were also in attendance.
If there was a guest of honor it was Ashley Harvey, a Yulee resident and daughter of a firefighter who died from cancer. She has been described as “tireless” and being “on a mission” since the loss of her father. He died at the age of just 55. He had nasal larynx cancer – a form of cancer the doctor explained to her that only appears in firefighters. Since then she has been working to improve conditions for the men and women in firefighting profession – first with helping firefighters to receive disability payments and now with another important cause – that of decontamination equipment.
As the old saying goes, “All politics is local.” To that end, Senator Bean spoke of a personal experience that “opened his eyes.” The home of Aaron and Abby Bean caught on fire
on June 9th, 2019. The cause was a lightning strike some 100 yards away from the house that followed a powerline under the house which then “sparked” i.e. ignited a gas line.
With wife Abby in attendance, Bean shared a narrative. It seems his wife and son said they could smell smoke but neither could determine where it was coming from. A call to 911 told them to “Get Out!” ASAP. No questions asked. Do not walk but run to the nearest exit.
He applauded the quick response of the Nassau County Fire and Rescue team and also the advice of Chief Brady Rigdon who explained that although the fire was out, he and wife Abby could not stay there. There was a danger of the fire re-igniting not to mention toxic fumes. They spent six months at the Residence Inn and are now living with a son in Lakewood, FL.
State Representative Cord Byrd spoke of his own experience with Fire and Rescue sharing a tale of a recent car accident in Nassau County. While not at fault, the deployment of air bags, etc., and the inability to move a vehicle after a crash can leave a person disoriented, to say the least. And that it did. It was only seconds later, once he saw the red lights flashing that a calm came over him.
In addition to those tales and comments of well-deserved praise, Barron Ayscue, President of the Nassau County Fire-Rescue, Local 3101, talked of the word “hero” most often being used to describe fire and rescue personnel. He was quick to point out that in addition to being heroes, they are also “good neighbors,” noting how they will often also respond to calls about a fire alarm battery needing changed that is well beyond the reach of any mere mortal, a fall that has taken place, and yes, even the age-old legend of a “Mr. Pickles” (a cat) being stuck in a tree. They do it all.
Ayscue took that opportunity to thank Senator Bean and Representative Byrd for being the friends of firefighters in Tallahassee. He noted their leadership and persistence that helped to ensure the passage of Senate Bill 426 and their commitment to shepherding SB 1092 and HB 87 through the process.
According to a release issued by Senator Bean, “SB 1092 creates the Firefighter Cancer Decontamination Equipment Grant Program within CFO Jimmy Patronis’ Division of State Fire Marshall of the Department of Financial Services to fund this effort to protect firefighters. It will require the division to administer the program and annually award grants and distribute equipment and training to qualifying fire departments.”
Editor’s Note: Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, Cindy received her BA in Political Science from Dickinson College. Upon graduation, Cindy began her career on Capitol Hill working as a legislative aide and director. She later became a part of the public relations and lobbying team of the American Iron and Steel Institute and served as director of the office of state legislative affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Cindy was involved in economic development with the state of Maryland, and served as executive director of Leadership Washington County. As a community volunteer, Cindy participates in numerous volunteer activities serving as a member of Sunrise Rotary, and as board member of Cummer Amelia Board of Directors.