SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A new bill waiting on Georgia Governor Nathan Deal's signature could prove to be a vital lifeline for firefighters across the state.
It makes it mandatory for cities and departments to offer insurance coverage for firefighters battling certain cancers caused by their job.
Not a day goes by the Heil family doesn't miss their father, their husband, their son and their friend.
"He lost tons of weight. He lost all his hair. Immediately, when I think of him, I think of him strong and healthy," said his widow Leigh Heil.
Savannah Fire Battalion Chief Tod Heil lost his battle with cancer in August of 2014. Cancer his family believes his job directly contributed to.
"Incidents of cancer in firefighters is higher than the regular population. To me, that says a lot. Maybe says it all,' said Leigh.
Chief Heil's insurance through the city didn't cover the fight. Instead, his wife's insurance picked up the bill.
"If he had just had insurance through his job, we would've had whatever co-pays and deductibles there would be, and obviously most policies have a yearly max. We would have surely had to pay our maximum," said Leigh.
Many firefighters aren't that lucky. They're forced to find ways to pay. Retired firefighter Kenny Rentiers has watched too many cases like this over the years.
"The odds are, I think it's 80 percent that we're going to get cancer. You have friends and family that go through it. To watch them suffer is tough," said Rentiers.
For Heil's mother, it was hard to watch a department and city he gave so much to standby and not help. The international association of firefighters recognized his death as a line of duty death. The city has not.
"They could've cared less. It's like okay, too bad, so sad, you have cancer. Tough luck, move on," said Mary Ann Heil.
That will change if the governor signs the new bill. Heil's family is thankful to see state lawmakers making changes to address this.
"Without presumptive legislation, its really hard to say, 'ok this cancer was job-related," said Leigh.
It is legislation this family says gives back to our first responders who give us so much.
The governor vetoed a similar bill last year saying taxpayers could be on the hook for costs that may never end. This bill places a finite amount on the money offered to firefighters fighting cancer. Firefighters hope he signs it by the end of April.
The chief provided us with a statement regarding Chief Heil's death:
South Carolina Lawmakers are working on a bill to provide workers compensation for firefighters who get cancer. It does not force cities and counties to offer insurance. It provides coverage for any disease of the lung, heart, or respiratory tract for firefighters with the presumption it happened on the job.
It also covers certain cancers. The major difference: it requires the firefighter to have 10 years of experience.
It has not passed either chamber yet.
Read Georgia House Bill 146 below: