CHIPLEY -- Images of crews pulling charred bodies, some adult and others that of young children, from fragments of wood left of a still smoldering home after a small kitchen fire quickly developed into an all-consuming inferno.
The scene is unthinkable to an everyday person; a haunting memory to the vigilant firefighters who battle the blaze daily.
In the current legislative session, State Chief Financial Officer and Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis plans to expand health benefits for firefighters, particularly those who are diagnosed with cancer connected to their jobs or with post-traumatic stress disorders.
For the past six months, Patronis has traveled fire stations in counties across the state, lending an open-ear to the needs of firefighters.
He said firefighters have told him about "the challenges they face dealing with bouts of depression, which lead to suicide. The images they deal with and the experiences they have to digest are difficult."
"All these horrific circumstances take their toll, so we're advocating for a treatment option for these first responders," he added.
Patronis cited an incident in which firefighter for 29 years, Steve LaDue of Tampa, committed suicide in September last year after being put on leave for stress related reasons by Tampa Fire Rescue, then being forced to repay workman's compensation for using mental health services later found not to be covered.
"There was not a solution there for him under Florida law that would work," Patronis said.
One 2015 study by the Department of Psychology at Florida State University shows of the 1,027 firefighters surveyed, 47 percent experienced suicidal thoughts, 20 percent made plans to commit suicide, 16 percent had attempted it and 16 percent made non-suicidal self injuries.
Patronis said as part of research being done by University of Miami, best practices for handling equipment and chemicals is being revisited.
"UM is studying all the different elements of the profession and then linking them to any potential cancers related to behaviors and equipments: are we handling or cleaning or putting the equipment in an appropriate place," he said. "That's all part of the research going on ... We're just trying to get them better practices, so a healthier outcome can be produced."
Although the health benefits expansion will not include voluntary fire departments -- such as those common to Washington and Holmes counties -- Patronis noted grants for those departments increased from $150,000 last year to $1 million in its second year, with the launching of the Florida's Firefighter Grant Assistance Program.
"Florida's firefighters lay their lives on the line every day to protect our friends and family, and I'm proud to lead a program that will help them purchase better protective gear," Patronis said while presenting a check to the Monticello Volunteer Fire Department last year. "As this new program grows, we'll keep working until every fire department across Florida has the resources they need to keep themselves and our citizens safe."