Jill and Jason Baker in their early days of dating. Photo Courtesy of Jill Baker

Prairie Populist Remembers a Warrior, Fighter and Brother

“We gather here today to pay respects to a warrior: at home, out in the field, and in advocating for the rights of your fellow firefighters, and I’m humbled to be a part of today’s celebration.”

That was how Governor Steve Bullock described Baker during Baker’s celebration of life Tuesday afternoon at the Great Falls Civic Center.

Last December, the Prairie Populist interviewed Baker for our coverage on the Firefighter Health and Safety Act. While promoting the protective bill as a high-profile supporter, Baker responded to our question describing his life at the time.

“I feel very fortunate that I was able to retire and focus on my health and spend time with kids, wife, and family friends,” Jason Baker told us. He was two years into his battle with cancer and had to medically retire from his work as a firefighter, yet he exuded uncommon optimism and hope. He was enjoying his time with his family, like anyone in retirement should.

“I try to get the most of each day,” Baker said at the time.

It was clear that Baker was appreciative of what he had. However, it was obvious he was also a fighter, a warrior and a brother to so many.

“He was a man who ran toward a burning building when everyone else was running away,” said Senator Tester in a letter Joel Fassbinder read at Baker’s celebration of life.  

“If there is anything I can do to help (the Health and Safety Act) get through I’m willing to do it,” Baker told us when we asked him about the legislation. “Because I don’t want another firefighter to go through what I’m going through with the uncertainty and stress.”

He was looking forward to participating in our current legislative session and he was laser-focused on getting the Firefighter Health and Safety Act passed. Now, after Baker’s death, looking back at our interview last December remains heart-wrenching.

Cancer is a horrible disease. The Firefighter Health and Safety Act would cover firefighters under workers compensation for a dozen different diseases, most of which are different types of cancer, that are directly correlated with firefighting.

Knowing that Baker and his family, and so many firefighter brothers and sisters have to fight — and in too many cases succumb to cancer — is heartbreaking. But for us, knowing that in Montana firefighters are not covered when diagnosed with cancer is infuriating.

Somehow, covering firefighters for cancers that have been linked to their jobs is still up for debate in the Montana Legislature. Legislators have failed to pass similar bills trying to fill this gap in coverage every session for the past 18 years.

This year, the Firefighter Health and Safety Act has passed through the Senate and is now in the House Business and Labor Committee. Joel Fassbinder, President of both the Montana State Council of Professional Fire Fighters and the Montana State Firemen’s Association, told The Prairie Populist that he feels good about the prospect of the bill passing, but he does not want to see any more amendments.

The Firefighter Health and Safety Act will remain in legislative limbo until likely March 11, when legislators return from the transmittal break, which starts March 2.

While some voters feel hopeless after the passing of a well-respected man like Jason, who spent his precious remaining time with his family fighting for health protections for his fellow firefighters. The Prairie Populist encourages readers to demonstrate their support for the family and Senate Bill 160 in the following ways:

  1. People can support Jason’s family by donating to the  Benefit Account for Jason’s Family at Montana Federal Credit Union, #15 14th Street South, Great Falls MT 59401. (406) 727-2210
  2. Contact your representatives and make sure they know it’s time for the Health and Safety Act to pass.

You can watch the full memorial service on KRTV’s website.

For a wonderful memorial by one of Jason Baker’s close friends, visit here.

– Andie Creel

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