Mercer Island firefighters will join many across the world in recognizing breast cancer awareness month and raising funds to support a local charity.
The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) calls upon its members every year to help support the annual international awareness campaign throughout the month of October. Many firefighters get creative, competing for the best pink t-shirt design or decorating their fire engines with pink decals.
The Mercer Island Fire Department (MIFD) has participated in the past by selling pink T-shirts in a fundraiser, but Lt. Ray Austin, the local IAFF union president, made an effort to do something “more robust” this year. They recently started a GoFundMe campaign to allow locals to donated online.
“This year we really wanted to go all in,” Austin said. “This is the first time we’re going to be able to wear the T-shirts all month… Everybody is behind it, we’ve got a pastel pink shirt with a cool design. They’re a cool-looking shirt.”
Austin has been with the MIFD for 17 years and has taken the lead on the local firefighter’s breast cancer awareness and research fundraising campaign.
Firefighters will wear the T-shirts as part of their daily uniform in an effort to encourage curious locals to ask about the awareness campaign.
“There are many more treatment options if breast cancer is detected early, and if wearing a pink shirt on duty will bring better awareness about this disease that affects so many, I am all for it,” said Stephen Mair, a MIFD battalion chief who has served for 24 years.
Local firefighters are participating in the awareness campaign through an agreement with the city, but IAFF Local 1762, the local union, paid for the shirts and does all the work associated with the program.
The IAFF is an international union that represents more than 300,000 firefighters throughout the United States and Canada.
Many Mercer Island firefighters are excited about the shirts and the opportunity to raise funds for charity. All funds raised by Mercer Island firefighters will be donated to the Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
“Fred Hutchinson in Seattle does great work, and we want to help in any way we can,” said Dan Jackson, a veteran and a firefighter for the past four years. “We hope to raise some funds to help them continue the work they do in breast cancer treatment and research.”
The IAFF 1762 started the fundraising campaign with a $250 contribution.
Local citizens can donate to the cause by contacting local firefighters or donating directly. Austin asked that any checks be made out to “Fred Hutch” and dropped off at the fire station or mailed to P.O. Box 1114, Mercer Island, WA 98040. Additionally, locals can visit the GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/mercer-island-ff039s-for-fred-hutch?teamInvite=nUhsSfrp5V3biEIuPl6r2nRP8JTxMhfRqjuKv6wjkmBXCwyR53kSZBXHOwrCZ6jx
The organization aims to eliminate cancer by researching ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
The fundraising campaign is officially approved by Fred Hutch, Austin said, which required an application process.
“[The IAFF] used to use Susan G. Komen as the only charity,” Austin said. “Now they let the locals pick their own charity, which I like because when we use Fred Hutchinson it has much more of a local feel. People know Fred Hutchinson and all the great work they do in Seattle.”
Firefighters will also campaign with local businesses to help raise funds. They’ll be hand-delivering pre-stamped fundraising letters to numerous Island businesses.
According to statistics provided by Breastcancer.org, one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Based on that rate, the nonprofit states that an estimated 304,010 new cases of breast cancer and 45,920 deaths will be reported in 2018. Among all women affected, 85 percent have no family history.
The two biggest risk factors are being female and getting older. An IAFF press release recommended maintaining a healthy weight, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercising and limiting alcohol consumption as ways to reduce risk.
“The fire service is such a male-dominated profession, we want to make sure that we recognize this disease that effects so many women who we know,” Austin said.