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Terminally Ill Retired Sacramento Firefighter Battles for Workers’ Comp

SACRAMENTO -- Once you’ve been told you’re going to die and when you just don’t make the same kind of plans other people do.

"Well, I’m sleeping in the living room, as you can see, on a hospital bed. That’s just in case I have to get taken somewhere," said Don Ban.

Ban spent his working life fighting fire for the City of Sacramento. He was an engineer and was specially trained to handle hazardous material spills. He was on the front line, fighting some of the city’s biggest blazes.

"Sucking up smoke goes with the job," Ban said. "You blow your nose and black stuff comes out for two days."

Just shy of his 70th birthday, Ban has twice now been diagnosed with cancer. If the disease followed him from his time in uniform, his wife says that’s not the only thing.

"Even after retirement, my husband says, 'If I only could have saved the ones that he didn’t,'" said Bev Ban. "It’s not just the glory of a good looking guy in uniform."

"Presumptive" is what California law has to say about firefighters and cancer. It is so common a disease among the men and women who do that work that the law assumes a firefighter with cancer got it from exposures to carcinogens while on the job.

Still, Don Ban’s claim for workers' compensation was denied by the City of Sacramento. A letter told the Bans they’d have to pay any bills not covered by their retiree insurance.

The city can deny them without breaking the law in part because Ban, after 30 years of service, was able to retire young more than 10 years ago.

Now, he’s watching the plans he made for that retirement ebb away, along with his energy.

"At this point, just don’t even think about it," his wife told FOX40. "I just put it on the credit card. I’ll just deal with it later."

If Sacramento is fighting the Ban’s pleas for help, the Bans aren’t alone.

In 2017, the city denied five of six claims from active and retired firefighters facing cancer. When four of those cases wound up in litigation, the city twice reversed the initial denial.

"The city is sympathetic and concerned for Mr. Ban’s health and wellbeing, given his long tenure and valued service," reads a statement from Amy Williams, a City of Sacramento spokesperson. "Mr. Ban’s workers’ compensation claim is being litigated through the standard process."

To be clear, any workers' compensation claim against the City of Sacramento is a claim for taxpayer dollars. So the city has an obligation to protect those funds.

But the Bans are worried that the standard process will take long enough that Don Ban won’t be around to speak for his case. There’s not much time. He has already been deposed by attorneys.

"The guy taking the deposition, long story short, he started digging into stuff that you and you do every day of the week as causes," Don Ban said.

"At this point, I know that we’re not going to save my husband any more grief than we've gone through," Bev Ban said. "But if we can prevent another family from this kind of turmoil."

For Don Ban, the only peaceful rest he says he can imagine is one where he doesn’t leave his wife in financial ruin.

A GoFundMe page has been set up by Ban's family.