Mark Rine warms up his son's seventh-grade football team before a game at Johnstown-Monroe High School. His son, Cohen, wearing No. 11, is a player for the Granville Middle School team. [Columbus Dispatch / Doral Chenoweth III]

Leap of faith

Mark Rine wants to wear his faith on his sleeve.

He tells Steve Holdren, owner of Thou Art in Lancaster, that he wants it all the way down his left arm: The spike being driven through the palm of Jesus Christ. Christ looking to the heavens wearing the crown of thorns. Rine's children’s names and birthdays, and his wedding anniversary in Roman numerals.

Then he tells the faith-based tattoo artist that he has terminal cancer.

Holdren’s eyes widen, but he doesn’t hesitate to ask Rine what nearly everyone else, even most doctors, are reluctant to discuss.

“How long do you have left?”

“I have no idea,” Rine says. “I try not to think about it.”

Rine plans to use his favorite Bible verses, those tattooed on his arm, to guide him for whatever time he has left.

“And only God knows how long I’ll be around to help,” Rine says.

Matthew 7:7 “Seek and you shall find”

For more than two years, Rine helped as statewide union leaders fought for passage of a law in Ohio that now makes it possible for firefighters diagnosed with cancer to receive compensation for themselves and their families.

He spent hundreds of hours researching the cancer threat. He testified in front of lawmakers at the Statehouse and participated in uncounted meetings during which city and fire officials debated how the law would be worded.

He did it all to help other firefighters and their families, but he also wanted to protect his family upon his own death.

Gov. John Kasich signed into law a presumptive cancer bill at the beginning of this year and it went into effect in April. Since then, 29 firefighters or the families of deceased firefighters have filed claims. Of those, the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation has denied 10 and approved 13, and six cases are pending.

The law says that firefighters who contract cancer are presumed to have gotten it from the job. If they win their claims, firefighters can receive compensation for lost wages and disability benefits, and their families can receive death benefits.

Rine's own claim under the presumptive cancer law was filed in early August. He received a letter from the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation saying it had been approved. But then Rine learned that the city of Columbus had appealed his case.

The law states that firefighters must have been working on hazardous duty and exposed to high-level carcinogens for at least six years for their cancer diagnosis to be eligible. Rine was 87 days short. Unless he eventually wins in the appeals process, his wife and five children won't receive about $1,000 a week in benefits after he dies.

Other states with similar laws have a five-year requirement, but Rine said he never thought about the math of his own case while helping pass the law.

"This will have a huge impact on my family; it feels like someone spit in my face," he said. "I believe in doing what is right. And if they believe it's probable that my cancer was caused by fighting fires, then my family should get those benefits."

There are 36 states that have passed a presumptive cancer bill for firefighters, despite some critics who question whether firefighters and the media are exaggerating the cancer risk.

“Studies don’t consistently bear out a strong enough association of causation for firefighters,” said attorney Kris Kachline, who represented the Ohio Municipal League and spoke out against the presumptive bill. “It’s necessary to look at the individual to determine causation and the background of the firefighter to determine causation.”

But those connected to firefighting are thankful the law is in place and hope it can help families deal with their loss.

For decades, that wasn't the case.

Hebrews 12:1-2 “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

The Marine inside the Boston fire chief comes out quickly as Joseph Finn paces around the ballroom packed with firefighters, chiefs and business leaders who specialize in protective fire gear.

Finn tells the firefighters at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that they need to hold themselves more accountable and combat the fire service’s biggest killer.

Some inside the fire service say not enough has been done to protect firefighters from cancer. Others argue that they have made strides. But it was evident in Boston this past summer that many inside the profession now take the threat seriously. It was the first time the National Fire Protection Association had made cancer prevention a major topic at its national conference.

The International Association of Fire Fighters announced that it was adding 196 names to its memorial in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which honors those who died in the line of duty.

Of those, 153 died of cancer.

There is no national database of firefighter deaths from cancer. In September, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act, a bill meant to help log and address cancer in the ranks.

If the bill is eventually approved, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be required to create the registry and study the effects of cancer for volunteer and career firefighters.

The bill is now making its way through the Senate.

Since 1990, nearly 200 Boston firefighters have died of cancer. There is a new cancer diagnosis in Finn's department every three weeks.

Because of this, Finn takes a hard-line stance with his firefighters if they are not following strict cancer-prevention rules that he's implemented.

“I tell my captains and my district chiefs, if I see a guy not wearing his SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) during overhaul, I will write you up,” he said. “I’ve told them all and they know it.”

Matthew 7:7 "Knock and the door will be opened to you"

The skinny freshman quarterback scrambles to his right, avoids two charging linebackers and flings a perfect spiral 30 yards into the end zone.

Fans of the Granville High School junior-varsity football team roar after Rine's son, Blake, gives their team the lead.

Then the whispers begin.

How is he doing? How are Heather and the kids dealing with it? Is he going to be OK?

Rine doesn't have the answers almost everyone in his life is seeking.

He knows only that he is still alive today. And hopefully tomorrow.

When he dies, there will be few regrets.

He did everything in his power to save his firefighting brothers and sisters.

Now it's up to them to save themselves.

— Reach Mike Wagner at; reach Lucas Sullivan at

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