MELBOURNE, Fla. - A retired Orange County firefighter is carrying the burden of his fallen brothers while walking hundreds of miles across the state to raise awareness for cancer-related death benefits.
Tom "Bull" Hill started his 700-mile journey in the Keys March 20. The 58-year-old has walked up the state and made his way to Melbourne Fire Station 74 Friday night.
On Saturday, he continued his journey up the Space Coast.
"It's an honor to carry these guys. That's the truth," Hill said.
Hill called it an honor and a burden as he stood over a table covered with photos of fallen firefighters and members of law enforcement. On the table were three large backpacks filled with more than 500 badges, shields and names of first responders who passed away.
The retired Orange County firefighter said he's keeping a promise and walking in memory of two fellow brothers who died from work-related cancer.
"I just want to fulfill the paths they gave me. What comes out of that, I'm hoping a lot," Hill said.
Hill said he is raising awareness about benefits families of firefighters don't receive after their spouse dies from cancer caused by their job.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, firefighters are at an increased risk of developing certain cancers compared to the general population. The International Association of Fire Fighters said occupational cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters.
Hill is also gathering signatures on a petition for a cancer presumption law in Florida. It would assume firefighters can develop the disease as a result of their jobs.
"They're dying. They're upset that they're leaving their families with nothing and on their death bed. I should never have to hear something like that," Hill said.
Hill walked 18 miles Saturday from Melbourne to Rockledge. There was a large group of supporters following in his foot steps who helped carry the burden of their fallen brothers.
"It's becoming a devastating issue in the fire service and Bull is doing a great job. And we hope the presumption legislation is passed and that's the effort we're trying to get," retired Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Captain Tom Quinn said.
Though the journey is tough, Hill said he has to do it.
"Something has to be done," Hill said.
Hill will continue walking up the Space Coast this weekend. He hopes to make it to Orange County by the middle of next week. His goal is to end in Tallahassee by the end of May.
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