CORBIN — Former West Knox Volunteer firefighter Ray Hollingsworth was posthumously honored this past week in a state and national memorial.
A Corbin native, Hollingsworth, who lost his battle with cancer in 2018, was honored by having his name added to the state’s Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Frankfort on Wednesday. Hollingsworth was also honored Sunday by the National Firefighters Memorial in Emmittsburg, Maryland.
Chief Darryl Baker of the West Knox Volunteer Fire Department was in attendance Wednesday.
“You had bagpipes there, you had all different honor guards from all different fire departments across the state,” Baker recalled. “There’s a firefighter memorial there, and there’s a wall with names on it, he was added to that wall. There was some things they give the family, honoring him and giving them something for them to have at home.”
Hollingsworth’s name was one of six added to the state’s Fallen Firefighter Memorial.
“It was nice for us and his family to see that happen, but Ray was a pretty quiet guy,” Baker said. “He would have said ‘you’re making too big a deal over me, go do something else.’”
Baker describes Hollingsworth as being a quiet, behind-the-scenes kind of guy saying, “He was fine with not being the hero. He was good with just making sure everything worked so that you could be a hero if you wanted to be.”
Hollingsworth was recognized in part because of the change in the state’s stance on what qualifies as an occupational hazard for firefighters. Before last year, Kentucky didn’t recognize any forms of cancer as an occupational hazard. However, thanks to legislation passed by the state, Kentucky now recognizes 12 cancers as fire-related.
According to studies conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnoses, and a 14 percent increase in caner-related deaths, competed to the general population in the U.S.
It’s hard to know if those numbers are completely accurate as many states haven't kept a registry, and once a firefighter retires, it's even harder to track. However, on July 7, 2018, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act (H.R. 931) was signed by the President and became public law.
This bill requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop and maintain a voluntary registry of firefighters to collect history and occupational information that can be linked to existing data in state cancer registries. The registry must be used to improve monitoring of cancer among firefighters and to collect and publish epidemiological information regarding cancer among firefighters.
“The way they changed the legislation, certain cancers are considered line of duty death now because they understand that being a firefighter and what you’re around can cause these cancers,” said Baker.
In the state of Kentucky, death benefits for firefighters are now awarded at the discretion of the Kentucky Fire Commission.
“When we let the fire commission know that [Ray] had passed away and what from, one of their members contacted us and said ‘this is probably a line of duty death. We need to get his medical chart information,’” Baker remembered. The Kentucky Fire Commission ruled that Hollingsworth's cancer was likely caused by occupational hazards and the line of duty.
Hollingsworth joined the West Knox Volunteer Fire Department in 2005 after retiring.
“He already had some back troubles in his life, and he was retired and everything. So when he came to join the fire department, he wasn’t what you would think a firefighter was supposed to look like,” Baker said.
“But what most people don’t understand is most of what we do, probably 95% or more of what we do, doesn’t require you to be Superman," he said. "It’s preparing everything for the next run, it’s making sure the trucks are in shape, everything has fuel in it, the oil is checked, and everything else. Only a couple percent of what we do is running into a house and putting a fire out or saving somebody, or cutting somebody out of a car. The rest of it is wiping the stuff off and putting it back on the truck. That’s what Ray did.”
Hollingsworth was named Firefighter of the Year by his department during his 13-year tenure.
“Ray was different, he was different than anybody else," Baker said. "He never called me chief. He always called me boss. He’d just say ‘what’d you want me to do, boss?’ He didn’t want any recognition for anything. He just liked to do his job and then go on back home.”
Hollingsworth was also one of 116 honored at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial on Sunday. Families of the fallen received an American flag that had been flown above the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial and the U.S. Capitol Dome.
The firefighters were also remembered the day before in a special Candlelight Service, where a bronze plaque bearing the names of the fallen was added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.