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Pretty in pink: Portland, South Portland firefighters raise cancer awareness

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Pretty in pink: Portland, South Portland firefighters raise cancer awareness

PORTLAND — Pink is not the color typically associated with firefighters who stand ready to charge into burning buildings.

But firefighters in Portland and South Portland will put their egos aside, and don pink T-shirts for three days next week.

The attire is more than a bold fashion statement; it's goal is to raise awareness and funds to support women battling breast cancer.

The firefighters will wear the T-shirts from Oct. 13-16 and fire engines in Portland will display pink ribbons throughout the entire month of October, in conjunction with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

"I'm incredibly proud of my fellow firefighters who stepped forward – and for some stepped out of their comfort zone – to wear pink in solidarity with women who are battling breast cancer," said Portland firefighter Jason Brooks, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 740.

While the campaign, dubbed "Real Firefighters Wear Pink," is intended to call attention to breast cancer, firefighter Rick Lee said it's more than that to the South Portland Fire Department.

Over the last 15 years, 15 South Portland firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer, including skin and esophageal cancers. Most recently, firefighter Steven Wayworth lost his battle with brain cancer in May.

"We've just had all different types," Lee said. "So, we figured we would jump in on this and raise awareness."

Lee said research suggests that firefighters are more likely to get certain forms of cancer, including prostate and kidney cancer.

Recently, the Legislature enacted a bill to tip the scales in favor of firefighters diagnosed with cancer who are battling insurance companies, Lee said. The cancer presumptive law gives insurance companies the responsibility to prove the cause of cancer was not work-related, rather than other way around.

Lee said there is one South Portland firefighter engaged in that process. That firefighter was diagnosed with kidney cancer, the two major causes of which are smoking and fighting fires, he said.

"He never smoked a day in his life," Lee said.

Lee said it was not difficult to convince his comrades to wear pink in support of the cause.

"They pretty much jumped at the chance," he said. "Not that pink was their first choice of colors. But everyone agreed it would make us stand out and make people ask questions."

In addition to raising cancer awareness, firefighters will be selling pink T-shirts for
$10 each to raise money for cancer charities, including the Maine Breast Cancer Coalition and the Maine Cancer Coalition.

Anyone interested in purchasing a shirt may do so by e-mailing local740@portlandmaine.gov, by calling 756-8376 or by stopping by the Central Fire Station on Congress Street in Portland.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net