Community Rallies Around Young Firefighter with Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Firefighter in a suit

Too many things were going right for young Jonathan Smith to ever imagine something going this wrong.

The recent birth of his daughter had been a wonderful experience. The dream job he finally had landed was going better than he ever thought. The dry hacking cough was nothing but a small inconvenience that he expected to disappear any day.

Even when the flu-like symptoms hit and lingered, and an X-ray revealed a strange spot on his lungs, he still wasn’t prepared for what he would hear next:

Mesothelioma, the aggressive cancer caused by an exposure to asbestos.

“It just came on so fast,” his mother, Jacquelyn May, told The News Leader in Augusta County, Virginia.

Smith was unable to attend the fund raiser in his honor last weekend at the Calvary United Methodist Church in Stuarts Draft, Virginia, too drained from the second round of chemotherapy treatments. He wasn’t there, but close to 600 friends, family, and fellow-firefighters came to show their support.

Determined to Beat Mesothelioma

Smith, 29, was diagnosed early in February, just a few months after starting his new job with the Augusta County Fire and Rescue, a few weeks after the birth of Jillian Grace Smith, the new love of his life.

Smith had worked for the previous seven years on the Stuarts Draft Volunteer Fire Company, always with an eye on become a full-time fire-fighter.

“He’s loved trucks since he was little,” May told television station WVIR, the NBC affiliate in Augusta County. “Fire trucks were always his thing. He’s very upbeat right now, and he says we’re going to fight it. And we’re going to beat it.”

An exposure to asbestos, which can cause mesothelioma, is not uncommon for firefighters, who often enter burning buildings where the toxic mineral is present. Firefighters today, though, are trained to use the proper respiratory equipment.

According to the news reports, Smith’s exposure may have come from his childhood. It normally takes from 10-50 years after exposure for mesothelioma to begin showing symptoms, which makes it unlikely that it came from his work as a volunteer firefighter.

Homes and commercial properties built before 1980 are likely to have asbestos in several places, including floor and ceiling tiles, in insulation, and on roofs. Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral, was used in a myriad of products, coveted for its heat resistance and tensile strength.

Because of its long latency period, mesothelioma is typically found in older individuals, mostly of retirement age or close to it.

“This is certainly tough,” said Carson Holloway, Augusta Fire and Rescue chief. “The department has come together, the churches are coming together. The police department is going to put on a golf tournament [to raise funds].”

Last weekend’s dinner and silent auction was hoping to raise an $8,000 to help with mounting medical bills. Co-workers already have given up vacation time so that Smith can remain on the payroll a little longer.

“It’s just overwhelming for this to happen to someone so young,” Susan Kane, who attended the fundraiser, told The News Leader. “He’s a fine young man.”

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Senior Content Writer

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His specialty is interviewing top mesothelioma specialists and researchers, reporting the latest news at mesothelioma cancer centers and talking with survivors and caregivers.

1 Cited Article Sources

The sources on all content featured in The Mesothelioma Center at include medical and scientific studies, peer-reviewed studies and other research documents from reputable organizations.

  1. WVIR-TV. (2017, February 1). Community Steps Up in Firefighter's Fight Against Cancer.
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