The family and colleagues of Austin Peck, a Goodyear fire engineer who recently died from a rare form of occupational cancer, thanked the city council for its compassion during his battle with the disease.
These battles are deemed “occupation cancer” because science proves they come from carcinogens in the smoke the firefighters are attempting to extinguish.
Peck’s uncle, Scottsdale Fire Chief Tom Shannon, called the Goodyear Fire Department a “first-class organization.”
“The fire service is a ferocious family,” Shannon said during the September 9 call to the public. “We come together during difficult times. He never went without a paycheck. The family was overwhelmed by the support he received from the city.”
Shannon said the Peck and two other firefighters’ cancer diagnoses have galvanized the brotherhood.
“You are right,” Shannon added in response to an introduction to the firefighters by Mayor Georgia Lord, who said the following speakers were going to discuss a “serious topic.”
“We always knew firefighters were at risk and potentially hurt on the job. Now the science for us is essentially undeniable. We have great legislation that identifies the known cancers contracted on the job. It’s is a scary, scary concept for cities to know they’re putting employees in harm’s way without any ability to change that. Your fire department is top notch in terms of what they do to make sure their members are safe.”
Sen. Paul Boyer, who represents Glendale and North Phoenix, took the podium next and said he was appreciative as well. He understands, he said.
In 2017, Boyer was the primary sponsor of House Bill 2161, which added to Arizona Revised Statute 23-901.01: “Any disease, infirmity or impairment of a firefighter’s health that is caused by buccal cavity and pharynx, esophagus, large intestine, lung, kidney, prostate, skin, stomach or testicular cancer or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma or malignant melanoma and that results in disability or death is presumed to be an occupational disease as defined in section 23-901, paragraph 13, subdivision (c) and is deemed to arise out of employment.”
“We’re all very appreciative of what you’ve done for Austin,” Boyer said. “Now do the right thing for Gilbert.”
He was referring to Gilbert Aguirre, Peck’s colleague who has cancer, and his battles with the Goodyear firefighters’ insurance company, CopperPoint. He has chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare form of blood-cell cancer that starts in the bone marrow.
“The carrier is CopperPoint,” he said. “They work for you — not the other way around. They do have a duty to do right and be fair to those who have contracted a sickness on the job. You have a duty to your employee to do the right thing by him.
“All we’re asking is to do the right thing morally and legally. I know Gilbert. He’s never once complained. Firefighters are there for us on our worst day. The only thing I ask is we support Gilbert on his worst day.”
Peck’s father, Mark, a Scottsdale dentist, became emotional as he described his son’s five workman’s comp denials. However, he was thankful for Goodyear officials’ support.
“You enabled Austin to accomplish healing with his family,” he said. “You gave him a chance to recover and he fought really hard. Your HR department, police department and fire department all bent over backward and sideways to make hospital visits. They took his shifts and allowed him to heal and sometimes come back to work.
“As we all know, Austin and others afflicted by cancer are fighting their cancers, for their lives, for insurance coverage and the benefits their children and families should receive beyond that.”
He said he didn’t want his son’s death to be in vain.
“There’s a lot that Austin wanted in his fight,” he said. The younger Peck wants firefighters and other first responders to make fighting their illnesses a priority over having to battle insurance companies.
“To do this, Goodyear needs to take the lead for the whole nation,” he said. “It needs to start here.”
United Goodyear Fire Fighters Association President Stephen Gilman took the podium last, saying it’s been an “emotional week.”
“Thank you for reaching out to us and offering condolences to the Peck family and our brother, Austin Peck,” he said, reiterating the bond between firefighters.
“I also want to thank the other fire departments who provided the apparatus to run the procession, the other police departments, the Goodyear Police Officers Association and the police department. This was planned in a very short amount of time. I think we honored our brother accordingly.”
Gilman took a shot at the city of Glendale, however, and its initial lack of support for firefighter Kevin Thompson, who also suffers from cancer.
“This is not Glendale,” he said. “This is a city that works together. I’m proud to say the city management is on board to work with us. I’m hopeful we can reach a resolution in the future to help Gilbert Aguirre.”
Peck, who had retired from the Goodyear Fire Department, died August 31 from complications associated with adenocarcinoma. Peck is survived by his wife, Erin, and two daughters, Marley and Harper.
A GoFundMe has been set up for them at gofundme.com/f/help-austin-family.