NC firefighter's death from cancer ruled a LODD by commission

The ruling means Will Willis’ family will receive full benefits offered to any other firefighter who died in the line of duty


By Noah Feit
The State

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Will Willis died of cancer on Feb. 27 — his 34th birthday.

The engineer with the Asheville Fire Department had “a rare subtype of translocation renal cell carcinoma” in a kidney, according to a GoFundMe page set up to help his family — which includes his widow, Bonnie, and four young children.

 Will Willis died of cancer on Feb. 27 — his 34th birthday. (Photo/Asheville Fire Dept.)
Will Willis died of cancer on Feb. 27 — his 34th birthday. (Photo/Asheville Fire Dept.)

They got a little more help Tuesday.

That’s when it was determined that Willis died in the line of duty, by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, foxcarolina.com reported.

The ruling means Willis’ family will receive full benefits offered to any other firefighter who died in the line of duty, according to WYFF-4. In addition to survivor benefits, Willis’ three sons and daughter will have their college education paid for should they attend a public university in North Carolina.

This is the second time that the N.C. Industrial Commission has made this ruling about a firefighter who has died after battling cancer, Asheville Fire Chief Scott Burnette said, according to WLOS.

“It is very uncommon and tremendous for the fire service that this determination happened,” Burnette said, according to the TV station. Burnette added that firefighters are using toxic materials as part of their jobs.

Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters, the Firefighter Cancer Support Network reported, saying that 70 percent of in-the-line-of-duty deaths since 2016 were caused by cancer.

This ruling could lead to aid for more families.

In February, Burnette said four active Asheville firefighters had been diagnosed with cancer in the past year, a number that included Willis, the Citizen Times said.

That’s a big reason Burnette was pleased with Tuesday’s ruling.

“It means so much. It opens up benefits for survivors’ families. But it also acknowledges firefighter cancer. It acknowledges that it’s a huge problem in our industry,” Burnette said, according to WLOS.

The ruling also means that Willis will get special recognition.

At a ceremony on May 6, 2019, Willis’ name will be added to the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Raleigh, foxcarolina reported.

Copyright 2018 The State

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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