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North Carolina

A fire marshal died from cancer, and NC officials say it was in the line of duty

In a rare move, the North Carolina Industrial Commission has ruled that the death of a 58-year-old assistant fire marshal battling ovarian cancer occurred in the line of duty.

Karen Shuart worked for the Asheville Fire Department for 25 years before she died, according to her obituary. Her former department was among the first to share the commission’s decision on Monday.

“This ruling validates the growing crisis of the increase in cancer among firefighters which is now the leading cause of death,” the department said on Facebook.

A representative from the commission did not immediately respond to McClatchy news group’s request for comment Tuesday.

The ruling is only the third of its kind in the state, WYFF reported, and Shuart is the second firefighter from Asheville whose death was classified in this way.

But for her colleagues, the decision was a welcome recognition of an all-too-common concern.

Cancer caused 70 percent of line of duty deaths for firefighters in 2016, according to the nonprofit Firefighter Cancer Support Network.

Firefighters also have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from it, the nonprofit said.

“Cancer is the most dangerous threat to firefighter health and safety today,” FCSN said on its web page.

According to state law, killed in the line of duty encompasses the death of a firefighter caused by injuries or activities during the scope of his or her duties.

The law also allows for certain diagnoses related to firefighting, including mesothelioma, testicular cancer, intestinal cancer and esophageal cancer.

Shuart was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer in May 2018, according to a care page she updated for family and friends.

In a later entry, she said she was ending chemotherapy after her fifth round.

“It stopped making sense to use chemo, which weakened my body, to create healing of my body,” she said. “And thus, my decision was made, stop chemo and take a holistic path toward health.”

Shuart spent six weeks at a clinic in Seattle before returning to North Carolina at the end of October, according to her journal entries.

But an emergency surgery in January put her back in the hospital, friends said. She died Jan. 31.

“She was incredibly brave throughout her experience with cancer, up until the end,” a friend wrote in one of the final updates. “This is not surprising, as Karen was one of the bravest, strongest, most energetic people many of us have ever known.”

 
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