PHOENIX - They protect us if we have a fire, but now a group of Phoenix firefighters say they're not being protected when injured in the line of duty.
Nine firefighters are suing their insurance company, York Risk Service Group, claiming the insurer set up a "scheme" to "defraud" firefighters by routinely denying and delaying their insurance coverage.
Tim Hunter is one of them. He has been a Phoenix firefighter for eight years. In 2010, he said a building collapsed on him while fighting a fire.
After the incident, Hunter couldn't move his neck and "experienced persistent numbness in his extremities," according to the lawsuit .
He sought treatment at the fire department's health center and then later filed a claim for workers' compensation when his condition worsened in June 2011.
York Risk Service Group then denied Hunter's claim since the health center lost Hunter's records for his visit to the fire department's doctor, the lawsuit said.
The doctor had also passed away by then.
Although Hunter's treatment and circumstances surrounding the 2010 incident were confirmed by fellow firefighters and another member at the health center, York Risk Service Group denied his claim.
Other firefighters involved in the lawsuit include Brandi Schamadan and her surviving husband, Michael.
Brandi Schamadan served as a firefighter from 1993 to 2003.
During her time as a firefighter, she was exposed to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), according to the filing.
In July 2009, Schamadan was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer. By October 2011, she was no longer in remission, the lawsuit said.
The deputy fire chief told Schamadan in 2011 that her exposure to PAH while working as a firefighter was a potential cause for her cancer and that she should file a workers' compensation claim.
She was then denied by York Risk Service Group and was told the claim was "untimely filed," the lawsuit said.
According to the filing, Schamadan actually didn't know she was exposed to PAH until that time.
The Industrial Commission of Arizona rejected York Risk Service Group's claim that it was untimely filed, but the group still denied her benefits.
After a medical toxicologist confirmed Schamadan's cancer developed from her exposure to PAH while fighting fires, York Risk Service Group finally abandoned denial of her claim, the lawsuit said.
Then for another year, York refused to provide a written confirmation of financial responsibility to any health care providers, the filing said.
"York also delayed and refused to reimburse the massive co-pays previously incurred" by Schamadan, according to the suit.
The Schamadans then lost their home during the final stages of her illness.
The cancer progressed and she passed away on March 22, 2013.
The lawsuit states, "Decisions regarding paying claims or terminating payment were made jointly by York and Phoenix, or were made by York after consulting with Phoenix or were ratified by Phoenix after being made by York."
Late Thursday afternoon York Risk Services Group sent this statement to ABC15:
"York Risk Services Group is not an insurance company. We are the Third Party Administrator responsible for handling claims in accordance with the self-insurance regulations and statues, as well as the conditions in place between the claimant and the self-insured entity and the governing statues and regulations. We are committed to handling every claim professionally, ethically and fairly. In all cases, it is our policy to respect the privacy of our customers and claimants and not discuss the specifics of individual claims."
ABC15 investigator Joe Ducey is meeting with some of the firefighters involved in the lawsuit and working to gather more information.
Stay with abc15.com for updates on this developing story.