Employee Spotlight – Lillian Carney Turned Tragedy into an Opportunity for Good

When Lillian Carney, Operations Analyst, joined Velocity Risk in 2019, she was ready to return to a career in insurance after facing tragedy two years earlier. Lillian’s current role is to help streamline processes with Velocity’s policy administration systems, so the end user doesn’t face challenges while processing a new business quote or servicing an existing policy holder. Lillian enjoys solving problems, and when she found a more efficient way to manage data entry in her first insurance job nearly 20 years earlier, the technology team recognized her talents and encouraged her to create efficiencies for all areas of the organization.

Lillian’s peers also recognize her talents and camaraderie and use words like “extra mile,” “team player,” and “positive impact” when describing her tenacity. Sandy Antonicello, Small Commercial Team Lead, described Lillian this way, “Lillian is a creative thinker. She offers great ideas. If I request a change, Lillian can find a way and dives right in to get it done quickly and efficiently.”

But Lillian’s story is so much deeper than her insurance job. Allison Sharpe, Senior Territory Manager, nominated Lillian for the Employee Spotlight when she learned about Lillian’s work and leadership in her community. “It takes dedication to doing what’s right and grit to successfully launch a nonprofit. I couldn’t help but think how much these values are in alignment with our own here at Velocity Risk. Lillian represents internally and externally what we are all about.”

Lillian’s journey began as a love story. She married her high school sweetheart, Josh, who joined the Air Force and became a fire fighter. Lillian started her first insurance job shortly after the birth of their daughter, Shayla. As their careers grew, they were not aware of the silent danger that impacted the lives of thousands of firefighters each year. In June 2017, Josh was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma and lost his battle in October of the same year. After Josh’s death, Lillian began to learn about the carcinogenic nature of soot and that it can linger on the skin for two hours after exposure, making it easy for the skin to absorb. She also learned that cancer is the leading cause of death for firefighters.

Shortly before Josh’s diagnosis, he was promoted to Battalion Chief, where he earned a special helmet. At a Josh’s funeral, his helmet and an American flag were presented to Lillian and her daughter. One friend in attendance had a two-year old daughter, and Lillian thought, “I cannot sit by, and watch another child receive her father’s helmet.”

Armed with knowledge about this occupational hazard and a passion to make a positive change, Lillian was determined to share her story so that other firefighters could take preventative measures and reduce their risk. A cousin stepped in and raised funds to purchase $1,000 in decontamination wipes to donate to local firefighters in honor of Josh. The owner of Responder Wipes, Tonya Herbert, was curious about the large order and a friendship and partnership was formed, and two months later, the Carney Strong Initiative was born.

“Lillian turned her own heartache into a passion for protecting firefighters across the nation from occupational illnesses,” Tonya Herbert shared. “We committed to reaching as many small, rural, volunteer and combination fire departments as we could. Our goal is to provide supplies and education that will help establish their decontamination protocol to keep them healthy. With Lillian’s help, Carney Strong donated more than 60,000 wipes to more than 200 fire departments since the launch of the non-profit in 2018.”

Lillian’s passion also led her to help change the law in her home state of South Carolina. At the time of Josh’s death, SC did not have a presumptive cancer law, meaning that Lillian and their daughter could not collect workers compensation benefits even though Josh’s cancer was directly linked to contaminates his skin absorbed fighting fires. Thanks, in part, to Lillian’s testimony before the SC legislature, Bill S1071 was passed in 2020 and went into effect July 1, 2021. Eligible firefighters and their families are now compensated after a cancer diagnosis.

Lillian is grateful for the positive impact she’s been able to make in her mission to protect and serve those that usually serve others. She celebrates Josh’s life each year on the anniversary of his death – Decon Day – by distributing wipes and organizing volunteers, including firefighter wives when personal deliveries couldn’t happen due to Covid. She is also grateful for a job she loves at Velocity that gives her the flexibility she needs to run a non-profit on a part-time basis.

If you’d like to make a donation, visit https://www.carneystrong.org/