EUCLID, Ohio — Despite two state rulings ordering the City of Euclid to pay Palumbo Act benefits to one of its longtime firefighters, city officials continue to fight paying David Rowell presumptive cancer benefits.
A firefighter’s frustration
With his fellow firefighters lined up in support behind him, the Euclid fire captain described how city officials let him down during Monday night's council meeting.
“I am deeply ashamed and disappointed in the way the city has treated me as a number, not as a human being," David Rowell said.
Rowell said the City of Euclid continues has filed two appeals regarding his claim for Palumbo Act benefits, which would provide help with medical bills and additional sick leave.
"It hurts me because I have come to work every single day, perform my job and not think about the actually fighting my claim," he said.
Rowell, who has fought fires in Euclid since 1996, was diagnosed with Stage 1 colon cancer in April 2018. He underwent surgery to remove one foot of his intestine.
After his diagnosis, Rowell filed a Palumbo Act claim.
The city appealed.
The Ohio Bureau of Worker’s Compensation approved Rowell’s initial claim. Then, the City of Euclid appealed the state’s ruling.
After a hearing regarding the appeal, a district hearing officer for the Ohio Industrial Commission once again ruled in favor of Rowell.
Then, Euclid filed a second appeal over Rowell’s claim. A hearing with a staff hearing officer for the Ohio Industrial Commission has yet to be scheduled.
At Monday’s meeting, News 5 asked Mayor Kirsten Holzheimer Gail why the city continues to fight Rowell’s claim.
Here's a portion of her exchange with 5 On You Side Investigator Sarah Buduson:
SARAH: "Why keep fighting it?"
MAYOR: "We are not fighting it. It's been under review for their process as we do with all claims."
SARAH: "It's being appealed?"
MAYOR: "I thank you for your interest in being here."
As part of the city's argument against paying Rowell benefits, a medical report alleged Rowell had an increased risk of colon cancer because he is overweight.
Rowell said he is 5’11” and weighs 175 lbs.
When asked about the weight claim, Gail said she does not comment on "personal health matters."
In the meantime, Rowell is still protecting the City of Euclid. He is currently in remission and working full-time as a firefighter in the City of Euclid. He does not appear to be overweight.
Cities fight claims
Rowell is far from the only firefighter battling their employer for firefighter cancer benefits.
WATCH OUR EXCLUSIVE INVESTIGATION: Palumbo family denied firefighter cancer benefits under Palumbo Act
74 of 149 approved Palumbo Act claims were appealed by Ohio municipalities, including Michael Palumbo’s own family, according to the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
Ohio lawmakers named the act in honor of Palumbo after he shared his battle with brain cancer with 5 On Your Side Investigators in February 2016.
After he lost his fight in 2017, his wife, Chrissy, filed Palumbo Act claims with Beachwood where Palumbo was a fire captain and Willowick, his hometown, where he worked for more than 25 years.
Both repeatedly fought paying Palumbo Act benefits to Chrissy Palumbo and the couple’s five children.
Beachwood eventually worked out a settlement with his family.
In July, a state hearing officer ruled Willowick must pay Palumbo Act benefits to the Palumbo family.
OH Rep. Tom Patton (R- District 7), who worked for years to create presumptive cancer benefits for Ohio firefighters, was furious to learn cities were battling their own firefighters over cancer benefits.
"I'd say to them, ‘Shame on you,'” said Patton, during an interview earlier this year.
Patton recently introduced legislation to address cities’ concerns. HB 330 would create a special fund to help municipalities cover the costs of Palumbo Act benefits.