HOUSTON (FOX 26) - For two full decades, Houston firefighter Margaret Roberts considered her calling a gift, an opportunity to protect both the public and the first responders at her side who fought flames.
"I pulled him out of there and the minute we stepped outside of the fire, the house collapsed and he calls me his angel, his guardian angel," said Roberts, recalling a rescue in a 2014 interview with FOX 26 News.
"It's God, family and then fire department," added Roberts with a smile. But her calling would also prove a curse. Heavy and repeated exposure to toxic smoke, like that released in the 1995 Market Street fire, triggered in the wife and mother of three, the often-fatal blood cancer known as multiple myeloma.
"I do feel my job had a lot to do with my cancer," said Roberts.
And there's now plenty of hard scientific facts to back that claim. Researchers have confirmed firefighters in the Houston area and throughout the U.S. have higher rates of all known cancers, an occupational hazard directly linked to dozens of known carcinogens from smoke produced by the blazes they battle.
"Firefighters have a 68 percent that they are going to come down with some form of cancer," says Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Firefighters Association. "We have a tremendous rate of cancer within the Houston Fire Department."
As for Margaret Roberts, years of painful chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants could not reverse her affliction. She passed away on Jan. 4.
While her death at age 46 was not as swift as other brave men and women who've fallen, it is certainly as final and no less a sacrifice.
The City of Houston fought Roberts’ Worker's Compensation claim and lost.
A memorial service for Roberts is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 14 at St. Luke's Missionary Baptist Church beginning at 11 a.m.