Asheville Firefighter's Line-Of-Duty Death Could Set Precedent For Death Benefits

Aug 8, 2018

Will Willis
Credit Asheville Fire Department

A ruling in a North Carolina firefighter's death could open the door for more benefits for their surviving families.

Asheville firefighter Will Willis died of kidney cancer earlier this year. The Asheville Citizen-Times first reported that for just the second time in such cases, the North Carolina Industrial Commission decided it was a line-of-duty death.

Willis' case is unique because state law does not list kidney cancer as a line-of-duty death. But the disease spread to Willis' intestines, which is covered. The decision means his family can now collect benefits, including free tuition at one of the state's public universities for his children.  

Chief State Fire Marshal Brian Taylor said it was an important precedent for firefighters, who are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. 

"The materials that are in homes, the polyesters and synthetics, the carcinogens that are given off when they're burning are more toxic than what they once were," Taylor said.

Asheville's fire department recently got funding for a second set of gear for its firefighters so they can rotate uniforms when one gets contaminated.

Taylor says Willis' case should convince Congress to set aside more money to track firefighter deaths.

"By keeping up with that, they can do studies to determine what cancers are directly linked to firefighting.  It's getting the attention that it needs," he said.

State law currently lists four types of cancer that qualify for line-of-duty deaths. They are testicular, intestinal and esphogageal cancers, and mesothilioma.