Hundreds march in Phoenix to support firefighter denied work-related cancer benefits

Hundreds of firefighters rallied outside an insurance company in support of a Goodyear firefighter who had his cancer claims denied.
Published: Apr. 5, 2023 at 6:31 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Firefighters from across the country were in Phoenix Wednesday to support a fellow first responder who, they say, is not being treated fairly. “This is what firefighters do,” said retired Peoria firefighter Rick Picard. “We’re a brotherhood. If one of us is down, we’re all down. We’re all going to be there to help. We take care of each other.”

The protest and rally took place in front of the Phoenix office of Copper Point Insurance to show support for Goodyear firefighter Gilbert Aguirre, who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2015. Aguirre has gone through an assortment of medical treatments and chemotherapy, yet Copper Point has repeatedly denied his workman’s compensation claims. “This is disgraceful for Copper Point to take positions that Gilbert’s type of leukemia was not what the Legislature considered, when it declared leukemia a job-related cancer,” said Ed Kelly, president of the International Association of Firefighters. “Shame on them.”

A Goodyear firefighter received another denial for cancer coverage despite a new state law stating work-related cancer should be covered by insurance.

The Arizona Legislature has passed several laws in the past few years to ensure first responders receive benefits for cancer-related illnesses. However, the law was passed after Aguirre’s diagnosis and original claim.

Copper Point released this statement:

“CopperPoint has been a proud member of this community for nearly a century, serving Arizona employers and workers who become sick or injured on the job. We must thoroughly review and investigate every workers’ compensation claim on its own merits and make coverage decisions in accordance with all relevant Arizona law. To date, CopperPoint has paid over $59 million in benefits to first responders, including for cancer-related claims.

“Claims that are disputed are sometimes adjudicated by the courts, as is the case with Mr. Aguirre and his appeal. While we cannot discuss the particulars of this pending legal matter and complex legal issues Mr. Aguirre has raised, CopperPoint will respect the will of the courts.

“CopperPoint will continue to pay all valid claims, and remains committed to Arizona and the Arizona employers and workers we serve.”

“They don’t take into account the human being factor and what we do, and what we’re exposed to,” said retired Glendale firefighter Gary Stanzak. “And we’re just asking for what’s right, to do the right thing, period.”

Aguirre is not the only firefighter to be denied coverage. He doesn’t want anyone else to face a similar health and financial crisis. “Whether I win or lose, my hope is that it makes a difference to where they don’t continue denying other people from what they’ve earned,” said Aguirre. “We’re not asking for any handouts. After years of service, we’re just asking for what we earned.”

Aguirre and the firefighters union are now turning to the Arizona Court of Appeals. A hearing is set for next week to hear Aguirre’s appeal. A lower court ruled that Copper Point was not required to honor Aguirre’s workman’s comp claim.