COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For 25 years, Brian Davis was a firefighter for Norwich Township until cancer took his life.
He is one of many firefighters who battled fires and then the disease. NBC4’s Hattie Hawks sat down with his family to talk about how they remember him and their messages to other families who will go through the same thing.
Davis was known as a strong man for his decades with the fire service, but mostly for his character.
“Brian was a firm believer that although he was a fireman, that was not his job on earth. That was not the most important part of his life. He believed more in being a Christian and helping people,” said his wife Marnie Davis.
She and their kids are now learning to live without the husband and father while also fighting one of Brian’s final battles – the one for his benefits.
“He made everybody feel important,” Marnie calls her husband a special man. “He was an incredible guy all around.”
His family describes him as a family man who coached his kids’ teams with a constructive eye.
“Whenever I would do bad at the plate I would just shake my head because I knew he would have something to say. Always in a good way though. He was always good about it,” said his son Nicholas Davis.
He was also known as a rock star at the senior center. “I used to go with him in the summers and I would ask how do you know everyone? Then we would get letters and they would all be like, when are you coming back?” said Nicholas.
“Yeah. Brian did not know a stranger,” said Marnie.
Brian died of cancer after more than two decades in the fire service. “One thing he always said was we get to,” said Nicholas.
Now their family “gets to” do something they never wanted to. They get to warn other families about the dangers of cancer in the fire service and the battle they may face in order to get their benefits. The Davis’ are currently in a battle with Norwich Township to receive Brian’s workers compensation benefits.
Following Brian’s death, the presumptive cancer law signed by Governor John Kasich, presumed a firefighters cancer was caused by the job. Seven months after the law’s passing, it was changed.
Employers now have the ability to challenge a firefighters claim – leaving the burden of proof on the firefighter. The Bureau of Workers Compensation has denied the Davis’ claim and Norwich Township is also fighting it.
“People who go into the fire service in the future they have to sit down and consider this. If you are going to be a firefighter they have to realize they are at a higher risk of getting cancer and if they do get cancer, they have to realize that not all fire departments in the state of Ohio are willing to do the right thing in order to protect them,” said Marnie.
According to the Davis’ attorney, because Brian never filled out an exposure report and was never written up for not wearing his equipment, the township argues there is no proof Brian was ever exposed to toxic chemicals that could cause cancer.
In a statement from Norwich Township, written by Norwich Fire Chief Jeff Warren:
First and foremost, our hearts go out to the family and friends of Lieutenant Brian Davis. Lieutenant Davis was a valued co-worker, friend and member of our community, and his absence is deeply felt. While government agencies as a whole, including the Norwich Township Fire Department, recognize the gravity of all types of cancers and the individuals it affects, there is a process for determining eligibility for benefits through the Ohio Workers’ Compensation System, according to the provisions and effective dates of governing Ohio statutes passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor. Cancer is a terrible disease that is emotionally draining and highly personal for all those involved. It is for those reasons that government agencies and other employers rely on the Ohio Workers’ Compensation System to make decisions in determining entitlement to benefits in these extremely difficult matters.”
The Davises say they are not fighting the claim for the money, but for the other families who will one day go through the same heartache as they are.
“We want to do our part because we know if Brian were here he would be the biggest advocate for this,” said Marnie.
As they move forward as a family they think about the times they will spend without the most important man in their life. “Things that I’m not going to be able to have him there, like at graduation, obviously he won’t be there,” said Nicholas.
“Whenever stuff happens or you get a new job, or you get a good grade the first instinct you have is, oh I wish I could call my dad,” said daughter, Hannah Davis.
While Brian is gone, the Davises say his spirit lives on. “I think he would be really proud of us,” said Hannah.