Members of the Victoria Fire Department’s Ride to Conquer Cancer team join Colorado Avalanche NHL player Tyson Barrie (front row centre, left) and gold sponsor Jeremy Petzing (third from right), owner of The Local, for the donation of an autographed jersey to be auctioned off at this Friday’s Gala for Hope fundraiser at the Crystal Garden. The department team raised approximately $100,000 for the BC Cancer Foundation through its efforts last year. This year’s ride goes Aug. 24 and 25 on two routes on the mainland. Don Descoteau/Victoria News

Victoria firefighters gear up to help battle a different nemesis

Formal gala at Crystal Garden raising funds for Ride to Conquer Cancer team’s efforts

There’ll be plenty of emotion in the room at the Crystal Gardens tonight (June 29), as a group of dedicated City of Victoria firefighters host a gala fundraiser for the BC Cancer Foundation.

With cancer diagnoses for veteran firefighters more commonly attributed to line-of-duty action, those who are still active have those that came before them front of mind these days.

“I think as firefighters, we are at a higher risk of exposure to potential carcinogens, and also we’re seeing lately that cancer is affecting us right here at our back door with the passing of two key individuals,” said Victoria firefighter Jeffrey Cullen, head of the organizing committee for The Gala for Hope.

It’s been barely a week since the passing of former fire chief Richard Couch, and just over a year since Couch’s successor, Doug Angrove, also succumbed to the dreaded disease. Both men will be honoured with a moment of silence during the gala, a formal dinner/dance raising funds for the department’s Ride to Conquer Cancer team, on which Couch cycled last year.

READ: Late Victoria fire chief remembered for his quiet dedication, leadership

“Richard rode undiagnosed [in honour of] Chief Angrove last year,” said Cullen. The aggressive nature of Couch’s cancer and the speed with which he lost his battle – he was only diagnosed earlier this year – took many people by surprise.

“It’s really hit home for us as a department,” he said. “Cancer affects everybody and there is an increased awareness of us needing to make an effort … it’s important for us to give back to the community that supports us so well.”

The Ride to Conquer Cancer happens Aug. 24 and 25 on two separate routes on the mainland. Teams are expected to raise funds in advance of the ride, and for the 18-member VFD team, what started as a goal last year to bring in $50,000 turned into a final amount of more than $100,000.

National Hockey League player Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche, a buddy of Cullen and a big supporter of the VFD team, was at the No. 1 fire hall Thursday to deliver a signed jersey to be auctioned off at the gala.

“Any time you can put cancer research and patient care in conjunction with the local fire department, it’s a no-brainer,” he said of getting involved. “I’m very happy to be able to help out in any way I can, but these guys are the real heroes here.”

Jeremy Petzing, owner of The Local restaurant and a gold sponsor for the gala, has many firefighters friends around the city and lost his father to cancer about five years ago. The Ride to Conquer Cancer was a good fit for his company to get involved in, he added.

“It’s kind of what we’re all about, we’re about giving back to community, giving back to the first responders, whether it be the the police, the ambulance or the fire,” he said “Having lost friends to cancer and lost my dad to cancer, this one is genuinely at the top of my list to help out.”

Cullen said in the neighbourhood of 400 people are expected to attend tonight’s $150 per ticket gala, which will generate the lion’s share of their funds raised. Helping boost the totals will be silent and live auctions of such items as the Fire in the Kitchen package, which sees a group of firefighters plan, shop and cook a full dinner for up to 10 people at a location of your choice. Others include having a Victoria fire truck attend a child’s birthday party, or the option to be a firefighter for a day.

While the event is more or less sold out, cash or cheque donations to the BC Cancer Foundation via the Ride to Conquer Cancer are still being gratefully accepted. They can be dropped off at the Victoria Fire Department fire station No. 1 at 1234 Yates St. daily between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Cheques should be made payable to the Victoria Firefighters Benefit Society.

editor@vicnews.com

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