Three months ago, a disturbing video showed a Fresno (Calif.) fire captain falling through a roof while battling a house fire.
Capt. Pete Dern, a 25-year fire service veteran, suffered second- and third-degree burns to about 65 percent of his body.
The video went viral and, almost immediately, support came rushing in in a heartwarming display of support within the fire service. Generous donations were made and fundraisers were set up.
Capt. Dern’s story and need for help traveled from department to department; that help was instrumental in helping Capt. Dern and his family through the recover from the frightening injuries.
But what about firefighters who suffer equally devastating, though far less dramatic and widespread injuries or illnesses? Is the brotherhood there for them?
Tim Moore, 29, who’s been with the Stockbridge (Mich.) Volunteer Fire Department for two and a half years, doesn’t live in a big city and his name is not known outside of the 1,218 people that live in the small town of Stockbridge.
The villain of Moore’s story isn’t a dramatic on-scene injury, but a quiet killer that likely lurks in many firefighters.
Firefighter Moore has battled cancer not once, but twice. The similarities between Capt. Dern and Moore? The brotherhood and sisterhood supported them from the beginning.
‘I was in shock’
In 2013, Moore had just sent in his application for the fire department — about a week before he found out he had cancer for the first time.
He was running some errands around town when his doctor called with the news.
“He didn’t want to tell me over the phone, but I wanted to know what was going on,” Moore said. “I kind of knew what it was, and came to terms with it rather quickly.”
Moore had noticed a small lump on his left testicle and knew it couldn’t be anything other than cancer. He had it removed, and didn’t have to go through chemotherapy because doctors believed they had caught it before it spread.
He thought that he had beaten cancer, but he was wrong.
Almost two years to the day that he found out he had cancer the first time, he received more devastating news.
At a routine checkup, his doctor noticed a small mass on his upper left lung. He was taken in for CT scan and later found out that his cancer had returned.
“I was in shock and was devastated,” he said. “I thought I was done with cancer, but I was wrong.”
He began chemotherapy treatment a week after finding out he had lung cancer.
“I was tired, weak, and didn’t want to eat,” he said. “I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without having to sit down afterwards. I had to take an ambulance to the hospital after the first week of treatment, because the chemo gave me a bad case of acid reflux and it felt like there was a 50-pound weight sitting on my chest.”
Moore had to step away from the fire service for about four months during treatment and financial issues were a constant struggle.
A brotherhood responds in a big way
Firefighter Cody Deladurantaye, who started volunteering with the department last July, said he didn’t hesitate to help his brother in need. After all, Deladurantaye said, Moore took him under his wing the first day he started at the department. Moore taught him how to properly use a hose, where to aim at a fire and made him feel like part of the brotherhood since day one.
“The first time he battled cancer had a big impact on his family and income, so we decided to do everything we could to help financially,” Deladurantaye said. “We found out he would be out of work for some time and just had his first child. We wanted him to know that we would do anything and everything to help him.”
The department pulled together a series of coordinated efforts and events to raise money for Moore. They held a boot drive at every fire station, had a “Vegas Night” fundraiser where firefighters managed the money and tables and also had a “Blessing of the Plow” event open to the community to enjoy drinks, music and raffles.
And this wasn’t the first time the department stepped up to help a brother in need. Ten years ago, a deputy chief at the department was diagnosed with brain cancer. His struggle, Moore said, was harder than his own. They held a similar boot drive to help with finances and were a big support in his successful fight against cancer.
A gesture of solidarity
As critical as the financial support was to Moore, he said one of the most affecting gestures came when his fellow firefighters shaved their heads in support of him.
“All I could do was smile and cry,” Moore said. “To go as far as shaving their heads to show their support for me was the best thing ever.”
The support of his fellow firefighters and the community were critical in his fight against cancer, Moore said.
“They were always texting and calling me to ask how I was doing,” he said. “They offered to take me to appointments or help out with anything — no matter what it was. They were just awesome.”
On the road to remission
At a checkup two weeks ago, doctors said they could barely see the mass anymore on Moore’s scan.
He has another appointment in a few months to confirm his cancer is in remission, but he’s hopeful and optimistic — thanks in large part to the “unwavering support” of his wife, Misty, as well as his firefighting brotherhood.
The experience has given Moore a new perspective on life, and wisdom to impart to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation.
“My advice to any firefighter who just found out they have cancer is to not give up,” he said. “You are not beat. Stay strong, stay positive and remember that there are people to help you. Remember that the fire service is a family. You are not alone in this fight.”
Very few professions boast the sense of fraternity that one feels in the fire service. And both Capt. Dern and firefighter Moore’s story epitomize that sense of brotherhood that echoes in fire departments world-wide.
“His cancer made us realize that we will be there for one another — no matter the day or outcome,” Deladurantaye said.