A South King Fire and Rescue veteran who died in 2006 as a result of contracting HIV on the job years earlier, will finally be honored by the state in April for his sacrifice in the line of duty.
Firefighter J. Douglas Waller began his life as a firefighter in 1976 with the Federal Way Fire Department – now South King Fire and Rescue. When he retired in 2001, he had no clue that one day on the job would ultimately lead to his death years later.
While working on an emergency response one day, Waller provided medical assistance to a bleeding man, according to South King County Fire and Rescue. The man later alerted firefighters that he was HIV-positive, but the warning would not save Waller.
After the exposure, Waller was tested and came back negative for the infection. He then retired in 2000. Six years into retirement, however, he tested positive for HIV, and two months later he died.
"To our knowledge, he was never diagnosed with an exposure caused disease until just before his death in 2006," said Gordon Olson, the assistant chief at South King Fire and Rescue. "Ultimately, because exposure diseases don't really present themselves with symptoms for many years, his claim was approved post five years."
Waller's recognition as a firefighter who died in the line of duty has been a long process, due to the unique nature of his death, according to South King Fire and Rescue. He wasn't killed inside a flaming home, or suffer from life-threatening injuries after inhaling smoke. It had to be proven to the state that he did in fact contract HIV while on the job.
After Waller's cause of death was discovered, subsequent research pinpointed his exposure, and a Labor & Industries investigation approved his line of duty death in 2008.
"The process took a while because the 5 years presumptive rule had been passed," Waller said. "With Firefighter Waller's unusual situation of being retired for several years, the process took even longer."
Waller's death has helped put post-exposure follow-ups in place for future incidents like his, to prevent the spread of HIV after exposure to firefighters.
"The biggest change has been the addition of antivirals, given at the scene, which if administered within the first three hours after an exposure can help prevent the spread of disease," according to South King Fire and Rescue.
In September, Waller received his first recognition when his name was added to the International Association of Fire Fighters Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Colorado Springs, Colo.
In November, the Washington State Department of Labor officially recognized Waller's death as being job related, and on April 22, Waller will be honored at the Washington State Fallen Firefighters' Memorial in Olympia.
Next year, he will be honored at the National Fallen Firefighter Memorial on the campus of the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md.
Republished with permission of KOMO-TV.