In June 1971, the "Roger Blough", the largest ore carrier on the Great Lakes exploded in Lorain, Ohio. Not one firefighter was killed in the blast.
Dozens of firemen were forced to work through thick plumes of black smoke billowing from 30,000 gallons of burning fuel.
Ken Afrates was one of those Lorain firefighters battling the blaze onboard the "Roger Blough". The intense flames didn't kill him. However, 22 years later, pancreatic cancer claimed his life.
His daughter, Kara Afrates, told Channel 3's Mike O'Mara that, "we now have 28 firefighters we know were on that ship fire who died from cancer".
Kara and her mother started to notice the pattern of cancer that developed in the firefighters like Ken. They started checking the death certificates for the men who worked with him after the "Blough" explosion and fire.
Scientists have discovered that at different temperatures some chemicals become even more toxic. Exposure to the smoke makes firefighters up to 6 times more likely to develop cancers ranging from leukemia to lymphoma, kidney, stomach, and brain and 9 other forms of the disease.
Some of those cancers could take up to 45-years to develop. The State of Ohio says that proving the cancer link is too speculative. Most requests for worker's compensation for firefighter cancer patients are routinely denied.
Tim Kling, a retired firefighter from Akron knows how tough the battle can be.
"It's very, very frustrating, very confusing," said Kling, "but at the same time the cancer is very real and very deadly."
It took Tim Kling five years and eleven appeals to get workman's compensation from the State of Ohio. State investigators kept insisting there was no "smoking gun" for the cause of his cancer.
Kling responded that, "you can't do that. It's just over the course of a guy's career in the fire service that he's exposed to a myriad of chemicals, toxins and carcinigens. It can be a deadly witch's brew in that smoke".
At a press conference held at Lorain Community College, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and Congresswoman Betty Sutton Friday called for federal medical benefits for firefighters battling cancer.
Said Senator Brown, "the injured firefighter, the sick firefighter deserves that help. Those firefighters should be able to get the kind of health care they need without additional anxiety heaped on top of a difficult situation."
Kara Afrates welcomes the help from leading politicians like Brown and Sutton.
Said Afrates, "sick firefighters won't have to fight the system. Instead, the worker's comp system will finally start to fight for sick firefighters."