By Jeff Gallatin
City firefighters and dispatchers will be in the pink all this week as they show support for a cause that is personal to many of them.
To honor October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month the firefighters and dispatchers are wearing pink shirts on duty. The color pink is being worn by people throughout the world this month to show support and raise awareness of the ongoing fight against breast cancer.
Officials for the North Olmsted city safety forces said altering their wardrobe to show their support was an easy decision to make.
“Last year, the international union decided to support the breast cancer awareness work and encouraged all of us to show support at the local levels in whatever way we would like to do it,” Dave Boatman, president of the North Olmsted firefighters union said. “We talked about it in our group and we decided that having all of us on our duty shifts wear pink shirts for one week would really be a good way to show our support. I know some other departments and safety forces are wearing some pink gear, but I think they’re kinda a weak colored pink. We decided to go all out and get a bright pink. There’s no way you can miss these shirts.”
Sunday was the first day the firefighters wore the pink shirts on duty and Boatman, who was on duty, said they drew reaction.
“We definitely got some looks from people when they saw them,” Boatman. “We got a lot from people in the hospitals when we went in on (ambulance) squad runs. The nurses and health care workers really seemed to appreciate our wearing them and showing support. Some other people were aware of what it meant, which is good because it means people are aware of what it means and what we’re fighting in breast cancer. And for the ones who didn’t know what it meant, it gave us the chance to explain the shirt and the cause that we’re wearing it for.”
North Olmsted police Captain Mike Kilbane, who is in charge of dispatchers for the city police and fire departments, said he’s glad to have his department play a role in the fight against breast cancer.
“When the dispatchers came to us and asked if they could do this, it was an easy decision to make,” Kilbane said. “We normally have a dress down day anyway and this is a great cause to support, so we gave approval for wearing the shirts all week.”
Kilbane also noted that like many people, he has personal reasons for helping fight breast cancer.
“I lost an aunt, Janet Hawerluk, to breast cancer, so I definitely want to make sure people know about this,” he said.
Two of Sunday’s on duty firefighters at North Olmsted’s Station 1 also have family members who have battled breast cancer.
“My wife Beth, who is an ER nurse at Lakewood Hospital, is a survivor,” said Lt. Ken Hehnen, who commanded the Sunday shift. “It was a tough time for all of us in the family and our friends and co-workers who supported us. I had fellow firefighters who covered shifts for me, switched times and did other things so I could drive her just about every day for treatments. She had a lot of support from her co-workers too.”
Hehnen, who is also is charge of the EMS squad duties for the department, said it’s appropriate that safety workers are wearing the pink shirts.
“We’re out there every day on ambulance runs and trying to help people with health issues, so it goes along with what we do,” he said.
Firefighter Mike Fusco said his mother, Deborah Fusco, has survived two bouts with breast cancer.
“I definitely got some reactions today when people saw me in the shirt,” he chuckled. “I think it’s great to make people aware of this, particularly because of my mom. She doesn’t know yet that we’re doing this. I’m gonna have to send her a picture.”
Boatman said the shirts also prompted one other show of support from the firefighters for fighting breast cancer.
“We sent a couple hundred bucks in for research,” he said. “We paid for the shirts ourselves, and charged $10 each. The shirts came in under cost, so we just took the extra money and sent it to the research fund.”
Boatman said he anticipates wearing the shirts or something similar becoming an annual event in the department.
“We’ll be wearing them and doing something each year to show our support,” he said.