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Firefighter with cancer wins workers' comp claim

Mark Rine's wife and their five young children will now receive compensation if he loses his battle with stage 4 melanoma


By Mike Wagner
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus firefighter with terminal cancer sat alone in his dimly lit office and was quietly praying Thursday when his boss rushed in to give him the news he thought would never come.

"Mark, they are going to drop it," he said. "You and your family are going to get those benefits."

A few hours later, the city of Columbus formally withdrew its appeal of Mark Rine's claim with the Ohio Bureau of Worker's Compensation. This will now make it possible for Rine's wife, Heather, and their five young children to receive compensation if he loses his battle with stage 4 melanoma, or skin cancer. And help pay for some of Rine's future medical bills.

"The irony is I was thanking God in my prayers for all that he has given me right before I heard about this," Rine said. "I don't really have a reaction for me. It was about protecting my family when I'm gone and giving hope to other firefighters."

Rine, 36, of Granville, was featured recently in The Dispatch series "Unmasked," which examined the cancer epidemic among firefighters and the struggle within the firefighting services to address the issue.

Much of the series was told through the life of Rine, who was formally diagnosed with terminal cancer in September 2012. Since, he has saved an uncounted number of other firefighters with his one-man cancer-prevention efforts. Rine has traveled Ohio and beyond during the past three years to warn firefighters of their exposure to carcinogens, such as flame-retardant chemicals, and other toxins released into the air when buildings and vehicles burn.

Rine also was instrumental in helping pass Ohio's presumptive cancer law, which allows firefighters or the families of deceased firefighters to file for worker's compensation benefits. The law took effect in April and Rine filed his own claim in early August.

BWC approved Rine's claim, but it was soon appealed by the city. Rine believed the appeal was due to him being 87 days short of the law's six-year requirement from when a firefighter starts active duty to when he is diagnosed with cancer.

But on Wednesday, Rine's attorney, Jonathan Goodman, provided the city a letter from a doctor stating that Rine's skin cancer was contracted from his occupation and that prompted city officials to drop their appeal.

Rine, Goodman and Rine's boss, Dave Montgomery, president of Columbus Professional Fire Fighters Union Local 67, were all waiting outside the hearing room in the William Green state office building Downtown when they received final word that he had won his claim.

The moment was more emotional for Montgomery, who has seen Rine battle cancer and politics for years. Montgomery gave credit to Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther for what he called "doing the right thing."

"Governing is always about choices, and today, once again, Mayor Ginther made the decision to stand with the firefighters that needed him the most," Montgomery said. "On behalf of the firefighters of the city of Columbus and their families, I want to thank him for his leadership."

Nikki Brandon, the city's director of human resources, said the challenge to Rine's claim was simply an effort to gather more medical information on his case. She said the doctor's letter presented by Rine was key in dropping the appeal.

"Yes the mayor wanted us to do the right thing," Brandon said. "And when the additional medical information came in, this was the right thing to do."

While he was waiting for Goodman to complete the paperwork, Rine wasn't celebrating or even calling his wife. He was counseling another firefighter on his worker's compensation claim.

"You are never off-duty," Rine said with a grin. "And this has always been about helping as many people as possible."

Copyright 2017 The Columbus Dispatch

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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