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Following in the footsteps of a fundraising champion

Sept. 17, 2014, Simcoe, Ont. - Three years ago, Salt Spring Island firefighter Travis Guedes championed a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness at his fire hall. The next year, the 35-year-old firefighter was diagnosed with brain cancer. Arjuna George, deputy fire chief of operations on Salt Spring Island, B.C., recalls Guedes’ passion for the cause.

September 17, 2014
By Maria Church

This October, join with firefighters across the country to promote breast-cancer awareness and education. Canadian Firefighter and EMS Quarterly supports breast-cancer awareness and encourages departments from coast to coast to coast to Dress for the Cause. Look for our first-ever pink issue in October, dedicated to those whose lives have been affected by cancer.

Three years ago, Salt Spring Island firefighter Travis Guedes championed a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness at his fire hall. The next year, the 35-year-old firefighter was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Arjuna George, deputy fire chief of operations on Salt Spring Island, B.C., recalls Guedes’ passion for the cause.

“He was one of our career members here. He was an integral part of our whole team and one of the spearheaders of the fundraiser. Travis led the whole effort there,” he said.

photo_by_derrick_lundy
Salt Spring Island firefighters, including Travis Guedes (third from left), hold up Iris Beck, administrative assistant for the Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue, during a Dress for the Cause event in 2012. Photo by Derrick Lundy.

While the department takes on multiple causes and fundraisers throughout the year, George says the high incidence of cancer among firefighters makes the annual October breast cancer awareness campaign a painfully relevant cause.

Salt Spring Island’s fundraiser was organized in conjunction with the Breast Cancer Society of Canada’s (BCSC) Dress for the Cause campaign, held each year on Oct. 24. Firefighters wore hot-pink T-shirts and encouraged people in the community to learn more about breast cancer.

According to George, the event was a huge success in the community. Hundreds of residents stopped by the centrally located fire hall to watch a jail and bail. Dozens of local celebrities volunteered to spend time behind the bars, built by local welder Greg Bellavance.

greg_bellavance
Greg Bellavance of Bellavance Welding, who donated his time and materials to build the mock jail, gets his hair cut in the slammer.

“It was not just a fundraiser, it was definitely a community profile kind of event,” George said. Each “criminal” who was jailed was held pending a bail donation of $100. For those criminals the community would rather see behind bars a little longer, donations were also accepted to keep them in jail.

“There were a few long stints, some pushing an hour in the jail,” George recalled with a chuckle.

The department raised close to $7,400 for the BCSC the first year it hosted the campaign. Year two brought in about $7,100.

Iris Beck, administrative assistant for the Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue, co-organized the event with Guedes and said it was bitter sweet in 2012.

“We still raised close to the same amount as the year before, but Travis wasn’t fully there for it. He was starting to show signs of the cancer,” she said.

Guedes died from the disease last year. SaltSpring Island Fire Rescue took a break from the fundraiser to focus on the service for its fallen member.

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Salt Spring Island firefighters and supporters, along with Sparky, look out from behind the bars of their make-shift jail.

“Travis was a key component for us,” George said. “He was a young guy and within two years he went from being an active firefighter to no longer being able to do what he loved.”

This year the department plans to renew efforts to raise money for cancer. Beck has already volunteered to organize a Dress for the Cause event this October.

“I want to do it this year,” she said. “Cancer touches everybody and it really touched our department last year. I feel it would be a great way to honour those people, whether they suffer from breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”

Fundraising for breast cancer research is a good fit for the department, George says, because not only are there female firefighters on the team, but “we all have moms, sister and daughters. It affects everyone.”

Following Guedes’ lead, the Salt Spring Island department will once again be champions for breast cancer, he said.

“A fire department is a community-based organization,” George said, “and we operate and function for the community, so to support causes like cancer is very near to our hearts.”

Read more about BCSC encouraging firefighters to Dress for the Cause here.