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Firefighters urged to develop Lippers’ legacy

May 29, 2013, Caledon, Ont. – The hundreds of firefighters who came to Caledon, Ont., Tuesday to honour fallen Deputy Chief Tony Lippers in a line-of-duty death funeral service were challenged to pick up where he left off and develop a program to help colleagues deal with cancer.

May 29, 2013
By Laura King

May 29, 2013, Caledon, Ont. – The hundreds of firefighters who came to Caledon, Ont., Tuesday to honour fallen Deputy Chief Tony Lippers in a line-of-duty death funeral service were challenged to pick up where he left off and develop a program to help colleagues deal with cancer.

Lippers died last Wednesday after an intense struggle with esophageal cancer that spread to his brain; he was 55.

Former Caledon Fire Chief Brad Bigrigg, who also worked with Lippers in Chatham-Kent, told firefighters and fire officers at the Caledon Community Complex Tuesday morning that it’s up to them to develop Lippers’ legacy.

“Tony had an interest in designing a workshop through which firefighters could learn the expectations if they contracted cancer, and the rules that go along with that, as well as the health-care side – what a firefighter and the family could expect from a surgeon, a hospital, WSIB, and the business,” Bigrigg said.

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“Tony was not able to finish this critical project and I challenge the firefighting community present here today to carry on with this work. We will all benefit from its completion.”

Lippers told Fire Fighting in Canada magazine in March 2012 that he had started the process.

“I’ve had a couple of sit downs with the surgeons – in the broad sense,” he said in an interview for a cover story about firefighters with cancer.

“In the fire industry, one in three firefighting personnel, whether volunteer or career, will succumb to some sort of cancer, directly. Some will be more severe than others. Each one of us has a different makeup, so it will affect us differently, but it’s one in three.”

Lippers urged firefighters to be tested at least once a year for cancers; his vision was for a database or website through which firefighters could navigate the health-care, presumptive legislation, and workers-compensation processes.

“I was between stage two and stage three when I was diagnosed. If you catch it at stage one, it’s not as severe or lengthy a process. I have been cut open pretty good,” Lippers said of his surgery. “That may not have been the case if it was stage one.”

Trent Elyea, the fire chief in Collingwood, Ont. – one of seven relatives, friends and colleagues who told story after story about Lippers’ integrity and his infectious laugh –  was at the site of Collingwod’s new fire hall last week when a young construction worker overhead him talking about the line-of-duty-death service.

“And he told me he hadn’t heard that a firefighter had been killed,” Elyea said.

“And I said no, he died of cancer.”

“And he said well, it’s not like he died at work or died in a fire.”

“And I said no, he didn’t die in one fire, he died in hundreds of fires.

“I looked at him and I thought, he just doesn’t get it. So I sat him down and I told him the story of Tony Lippers and explained to him the fight that Tony had gone through, and that, courageously, he had battled hundreds of fires through his cancer, and it was probably far worse than anything he could have endured on the fire ground.

“And I watched his face as I was talking to him and I could see in his face that he was starting to get it. And when I was done explaining to him what had happened, he looked at me and he said, you know, people don’t understand this. And I said, no, I know. That’s part of the tragedy.

“He said, they expect us to die diving out a window with a little kid under our arms and jumping four storeys. But the reality is that we die hundreds of times over from all the toxins that we’ve breathed in over the years.”

Earlier, firefighters from departments across southwestern Ontario had marched the kilometer to the Caledon Community Complex from a local high school behind the town’s old pumper; it had been Lippers’ wish to ride through town on the pumper.

Lippers had been the deputy chief in Caledon since 2006. He had been the assistant chief in Chatham-Kent, chief fire prevention officer in Orillia, and a firefighter/inspector in Ajax. He had also been a volunteer firefighter in Ajax and Little Britain, Ont.

Both Bigrigg and Elyea, along with Lippers’ brother, Ben, Caledon Fire Chief Terry Irwin, Chatham-Kent assistant chief Rick Arnel, Scugog chief fire prevention officer Gord Gettins and Rama fire prevention officer Elmer Tyron all spoke of Lippers encyclopedic-like knowledge of Ontario Fire Code – he could cite the page number and section off the top of his head, they said – and his mentorship of younger fire officers and firefighters.

“Tony lived according to the good book,” Bigrigg said. “In my family that was the Old Testament. For Tony, it was the Ontario Fire Code.”