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Thinking Pink, Even in the Most Unexpected Places

December 15, 2016 - 9:59am

Left to Right (Drew Finlay, Fire Chief Morgan Hackl, Jay Protz, Captain Robert Reynolds, Dori Krahn, Assistant Chief Glenn Ledray, Kael Irvine, Battalion Chief Bill Riley, Michael Grisdale)

The Saskatoon Fire Department (SFD), with support from IAFF Local 80, has always been a heavyweight when it comes to championing the City of Saskatoon’s Strategic Goal of Quality of Life. The SFD operates five divisions dedicated to helping residents stay safe in a wide variety of emergencies. However, the commitment of this organization to the city’s residents doesn’t stop there.

The SFD and IAFF Local 80 seek to build relationships throughout the community and fundraise annually for a number of charitable organizations and initiatives. Some of these initiatives include: the Muscular Dystrophy Boot Drive and Basketball Game; the Denny Carr Secret Santa; the Salvation Army Kettle Bells; the Stand-by Medics for the Bedford Road Invitational Tournament (BRIT); the Canadian Blood Service Blood Services’ Sirens for Life Campaign; and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada’s Light the Night Walk. These initiatives and others often raise more than $100,000 for the community annually.

The breast cancer awareness initiative made local headlines and grabbed the attention of residents when a pink fire truck hit the streets out of Fire Station No. 1 on October 1, 2016. Jay Protz, Kael Irvine, and Warren McAuley, the brains behind the initiative and members of IAFF Local 80, have been firefighters with the SFD for the past six years.

When asked how the initiative got started, Protz laughs and says “That was all Kael.” However, each of the three firefighters have been working tirelessly over the past three years to get the initiative to where it is today. “The three of us got together and looked at what was happening around the country [with breast cancer rates in firefighters] and thought what we can do,” Protz recalls.

All firefighters have an increased risk of developing cancer due to exposures they face on the job. Female firefighters are four times more likely to develop breast cancer than the rest of the population. This statistic inspired the team to take action and build the breast cancer awareness initiative.

The team knew they had to start small, at least smaller than a fire truck. “We wanted to make sure we had money to donate in the end – you know that’s important for charitable giving,” jokes Protz. With this in mind they purchased pink tee-shirts for staff to buy and wear on-shift with approval from management, and organized an annual Comedy Night and Silent Auction. These initiatives enabled the team to raise over $14,000 in their first two years. But this year was a little different, the dream of the pink fire truck became a reality and with it came $7,000 in donations in October alone! IAFF Local 80’s dedication to breast health awareness has proved to be an annual success and is gaining traction in the community, pointing to a bright future ahead.

Throughout October the pink fire truck attended many local events, businesses, and public gatherings including: Dixie Chicks concert, Carrie Underwood concert, Toronto Maple Leafs game, Women’s World, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon Cancer Centre, and the Optimist Club Ladies Autumn Gala.

“The coolest thing for us about going out and getting signatures was those signing as survivors or in memory of loved ones – those people often shared their stories with us and it really hit home,” says Irvine. At a suggested donation of $10 per signature this means around 700 people signed the truck over the 31 day drive.

Funds raised throughout the breast cancer awareness initiative’s three years, total more than $24,000, go toward the annual C95 Radio Marathon for Breast Cancer Research. This program keeps the funds raised here in Saskatoon and supports the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency’s research team at the Saskatoon Cancer Centre (SCC). The SCC is a global leader in cancer research and maintains a special focus of understanding how breast cancer develops and why it spreads.

“We met the scientists and that really did it for us. We saw what they can do with every dollar. We just want to raise as much money as possible to support the good work being done,” says Irvine.

The team said they couldn’t have done it without the momentous support of the IAFF Local 80 members and encouragement and assistance from SFD management. Other crucial partners included: the Cowan Imaging Group, the firm who brought the pink fire truck to life by designing and completing the wrap - all on donated time, and Cheri Hamilton from SaskTel Center, who helped coordinate the truck’s arrival at big events and got it in front of a few famous faces.

“I think the feeling around the Department regarding this initiative is pride. Not only have our members created a hugely successful campaign raising awareness and funds - that stay right here in Saskatoon - they have also strengthened the relationship the SFD has with residents and solidified the Department’s role as a positive community member,” says Dori Krahn, a member of SFD’s Community Relations Division.

As of early November, Engine 12 is back to fire engine red. But that doesn’t mean the pink truck is gone for good. Plans are in the works to keep building the pink fire truck initiative in 2017 and into the future.

When asked about advice for others trying to move Quality of Life initiatives forward the team suggests, “Seek out others who believe in the cause like you do.”

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