Donning a heavy coat, flame resistant pants, a balaclava and a self contained breathing apparatus, Jeff Cullen, of the Victoria Fire Department, says it can get really warm. These are a few of the precautions firefighters can take to protect from the heat but also from the unseen force that has taken the lives of many in the field — cancer.
Firefighters have a nine per cent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 per cent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.
Cullen says it’s something that weighs heavy on the minds of many of his friends and colleagues he works with.
“I think there’s a very strong underlying understanding of how unfortunately common cancer can be for us,” he says.
In the past couple years alone the Victoria Fire Department has lost a number of people to the disease; former chief Richard Couch and Doug Angrove along with firefighter, Stan Thame are a few names that bring the illness home for Cullen.
“It’s hard not to think about it at the back of your mind but I think the important thing is you’ve got to try to do everything you can throughout your career to limit those exposures. Albeit, it seems like a lot of them are inevitable, you do fear it.”
Washing off the cancer-causing pathogens is one way of mitigating risk, another is the Gala For Hope, an annual fundraiser put on by the Victoria Fire Department in support of the B.C. Cancer Foundation.
The gala is in its second year and has already raised almost a quarter of a million dollars for cancer research and patient care.
This year’s event will take place on June 15 at Carson Hall. The formal fundraiser consists of a three-course meal catered by the Fairmont Empress Hotel, a live and silent auction, a live band and two key note speeches from Steve Letourneau, Vancouver Fire Captain, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and Mena Westhaver.
“Our keynote speakers are genuinely amazing,” says Cullen. “You’re going to get some great, in-depth, honest speeches from people that speak to the severity and impact of this illness.”
The Gala For Hope is the main fundraiser the Victoria Fire Department takes on before heading to the Ride to Conquer Cancer that happens on the Lower Mainland in August. The name takes on a special meaning as the 200 km ride ends in the community of Hope.
“Our coworkers, our chiefs, our friends, our family — it’s just had such an incredibly negative impact on our fire department in previous years and I just think it’s our duty to try and step up and make a difference,” says Cullen.
For more information on the gala or to purchase tickets visit www.eventbrite.ca.
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