When former Ardmore firefighter Brian McDaniel was diagnosed with prostate cancer in March, 2018, after serving the department for 25 years, he was dismayed.
“It changed everything. It just changed my whole way of life, way of thinking, my career,” McDaniel said. “It scared me to my core in the fact that here I am at 48 years old and I end up with cancer.”
McDaniel said he had to retire in January, 2019 and after being denied workers compensation twice, he said he is still grappling with out-of-pocket medical expenses.
“I knew I had to retire at some point but I wanted it to be on my terms,” McDaniel said. “I didn’t want for it to be on cancer’s terms. It cost me out-of-pocket medical expenses when it shouldn’t have and time away from work.”
After his diagnosis, McDaniel said he filed a workers compensation claim under Oklahoma Statute Title 11, section 49-110 on presumptions and certificates of disability. “They denied it very quickly and said that it could be caused by anything,” he said.
The state statute says that any member of the fire department who is disabled as a result of heart disease, injury to the respiratory system, infectious disease, or the existence of any cancer shall be presumed to have incurred the illness while performing the firefighter’s duties, unless the contrary is shown by competent evidence.
“Cancer is a fairly well-known hazard of being a firefighter,” said Ardmore Firefighters Association President Scott Richards. “Cancer causing agents can absorb through your skin. We’re trying to find ways to deal with that. And that’s why it is a presumptive injury according to state statute.”
Ardmore City Manager J.D. Spohn declined to comment on the situation, and said the city cannot legally comment on workers compensation issues. “Workers comp court, according to state statutes, adjudicates these issues,” Spohn said in a text message.
After being denied the first time, McDaniel said he let it go. However, while being treated at Stephenson Cancer Center, McDaniel said he underwent genetic testing to see if he had a genetic anomaly or a predisposition to cancer and his results came back negative.
“My doctor said that it is not genetic in nature and I have documentation to prove that he said that it’s not genetic in nature,” McDaniel said. “He didn’t specifically say that xy caused it, nobody really knows. But the presumptive law was put in place because nobody really knows.”
McDaniel said he filed a second workers compensation claim in July, 2018, and after he was denied again, he contacted an attorney and filed a civil lawsuit. Since then, McDaniel said he has been in an ongoing legal battle with the city of Ardmore and the city’s workers compensation company.
The discovery phase of the lawsuit began just around three weeks ago, McDaniel said.
“The city at any point could say ‘Here, we’ll just treat this as it’s supposed to be treated, as state law says it should.’ But I guess since they can fight it, they will,” McDaniel said.
To his knowledge, Richards said the city wants McDaniel to prove that he actually got his cancer on the job — something he said is nearly impossible to do. “I think his frustration and our frustration is that the state Legislature tried to solve this problem by making it a presumption,” Richards said.
Legal matters aside, McDaniel said he feels lucky to have caught the cancer early and to have been able to treat it. In October of this year, McDaniel said he will be through with treatment. But he is still dealing with the aftermath of bills and side effects.
McDaniel said he never desired to push the dispute as far as legal litigation, but that he wants to set the record straight to prevent any future issues his fellow firefighters in Ardmore and other locations might face.
“It’s disheartening to know that you’ve spent your time, your career, fighting and doing these things, seeing some awful things, as a firefighter and then in your moment of need, it feels like they’re not there for me. It hurts,” McDaniel said. “At this point, I’m not the last firefighter to get cancer, I just happen to be the first in Ardmore and this sets the standard for how they treat somebody.”