When 43-year-old Murrieta firefighter Dean Hale was diagnosed with stage four non-small cell lung cancer in March, one of the first phone calls he received was from the Firefighter Cancer Support Network.
"One of the things he told me was 'don't go reclusive.' When a fireman talks to a fireman, you get it," said Hale, who went through six rounds of chemotherapy and is now in remission.
That phone call was from Mike Dubron, a Los Angeles County firefighter who founded FCSN after his own battle with cancer. FCSN followed that up by sending Hale a kit that helped him keep organized as he fought back against the cancer.
FCSN is now in 22 states, according to Dan Crow, a retired Redlands fire captain who acts as the California coordinator.
Crow was on hand Saturday at Murrieta Fire Station No. 1 to receive a $8,623.07 check from the Murrieta Fire Department's Half-Ironman team. It was a way for team-- the department as whole--to say thank you to the network for helping their brother.
"This is not a small donation," Crow said. "This is a fantastic donation. We are only able to support other firefighters through donations like this, obviously."
Firefighters face up to four times the risk of suffering from most types of cancer because of their exposure to smoke and skin absorption, according to an article published on Fireengineering.com
Around the same time Hale was diagnosed, 13 members of the department--including fire Chief Matt Shobert--decided to form a Half-Ironman team in his honor. They are training together for the 70.3-mile swim-bike-run competition that will take place March 31 in Oceanside.
"We decided to turn it into our mission to support him," said Murrieta Firefighter/Paramedic Landon Hill, who serves as the captain of the Ironman team, having competed in a full Ironman competition in the past.
In addition, "firefighter fitness is so important to what we do," Hill said.
Hale said seeing them train for the triathlon inspired him when he needed it the most.
"I looked at them as my model to get better," Hale said. "This isn't just running a marathon, this is getting mentally prepared, physically prepared and the overall stamina it requires."
The community opened their wallets in support of the cause, giving generously during an impromptu Fill the Boot drive in early December on Alta Murrieta Drive and Whitewood Road near Fire Station No. 4,
Murrieta city Council member Randon Lane and Mayor Pro Tem Rick Gibbs joined the firefighters when they presented the check to FCSN Saturday, and thanked the community for supporting the cause.
At least four Murrieta businesses donated money to the Ironman team to go toward their gear and equipment, according to Matt Corelli, spokesperson for the Murrieta Fire Department. Business donors included Southern California Gas Company, BMW of Murrieta, and , bringing the total funds raised to $10,000.
The chief expressed admiration at the way the community and the department came together to support one of their own. A quarter--25 percent--of the department signed on to do the Half-Ironman.
"There is not another fire department in this country that could generate this much participation based on the support, the family environment, the esprit de corps and the overall fitness of the department," Shobert said.
An Ironman is not something someone can do without months of training and passion toward, he said.
"We talk about fire departments being a family--this is the epitome of that, for them to come together like this to support a fellow firefighter who is fighting cancer."