Chapel Hill firefighter loses cancer battle; community vows to keep fighting

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020
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Jimmy Lambert died Sunday after a year and half-long battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer,

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- As the Chapel Hill Fire Department grieves the loss of one of their own, their fight against firefighter cancer is far from over.

Jimmy Lambert died Sunday after a year and half-long battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, pleomorphic liposarcoma.

"Our thoughts and prayers right now are with Jimmy, and of especially Jimmy and Tracy's sons, Thomas and Jacob," Chapel Hill Fire Chief Vencelin Harris said. "Jimmy fought a courageous battle with this rare form of cancer, and his sons and family were there with him every step of the way. Our firefighters and staff have stepped up as extended families ... We are going to miss Jimmy so dearly. But if we can find any comfort in this challenging time, it is that Jimmy is no longer in any pain."

ABC11 first brought you Lambert's story last fall, shortly after Lambert buried his wife Tracy, who had died from cancer, and the firefighter community rallied around him with a fundraiser.

"I would love to see the state take a more active role in protecting firefighters early," said Matthew Sullivan, retired Chapel Hill Fire Chief. "The families deserve all they can get at the end of a firefighter's life because of the service that person provided, but if we can do more to keep our firefighters healthy and have the resources there to do it, I think that's the best course of action."

Sullivan has advocated for HB520, the Firefighters Fighting Cancer Act, that is still sitting untouched in a Senate committee.

"Every day, there's new science that talks about what we know -- what we know is the chemicals and the byproducts of combustion that burn when firefighters respond to different incidents increase the likelihood of certain cancers," Sullivan said.

HB520 would deem certain cancers as occupational diseases, ensuring workers compensation for firefighters who get that dreaded cancer diagnosis.

"The sin would be now, to have all this great new information and not do anything with it," Sullivan said.

As he's missing his friend and former firefighter, Sullivan said he'll keep fighting for the others who are committed to serve.

"That's something Jimmy taught us -- that there's always hope despite how tough life and circumstances life throws at you, there's always hope," he said.

Lambert leaves behind two young sons. There is a GoFundMe raising support for their education expenses.