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Berea Fire Department is still ‘on fire for a cure’

Firefighters typically take part in someone’s worst day. That’s why a pink fire truck has become such a meaningful element of the day-to-day activity at the Berea Fire Department in Greenville County.

“When we get a call, it’s usually a very bad day for someone,” said Lt. Bruce Blakely. “Our pink fire truck lets us be a part of good news.”

Berea Fire Department Lt. Chris Vaughan came up with the idea of the pink fire truck after learning about Pink Heals, a national organization focused on those with breast cancer. Vaughan and Blakely wanted to model a local program after Pink Heals but include all types of cancer.

“We had an older truck that was in reserve status so we took the idea to our chief, hoping we could use that truck,” Vaughan said. “It took him just a few seconds, if that long, to agree to it.”

That was in the fall of 2016. Since then, Berea’s pink fire truck has made more than 100 individual visits, participated in numerous special events and parades across the Upstate, and gathered hundreds of signatures of cancer survivors and those who have signed the truck in memory of someone who lost their battle.

For Blakely and Vaughan, and many others in the Berea Fire Department family, their On Fire For A Cure campaign is personal. Vaughan lost his mother to brain cancer. And Blakely’s wife, Leslie, has been fighting breast cancer since 2007. To honor the Berea firefighting family, the cab of the truck is reserved for the names of former and active firefighters diagnosed with cancer. There presently are 46 names on the cab, accompanied by a colored ribbon representing the type of cancer. The front of the truck carries the names of firefighter family members who have battled cancer. Presently, 20 names appear there.

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The arrival of the pink truck is usually a surprise, Vaughan says, with a friend or family member making a call to request a visit. The truck arrives at the hospital or cancer treatment center complete with lights, sirens and a bouquet of flowers donated by Angel’s Flowers and Gifts in Greenville. The patient is then invited to sign the truck and ring the bell on the front of the truck to celebrate any good news.

As one of only two pink fire trucks in South Carolina and the only one in the Upstate, Berea’s On Fire For A Cure truck has touched people from Spartanburg to Anderson like Kim Strickland, a former firefighter with the Broadway Fire Department in Anderson County. “We picked Kim up at the hospital after her double mastectomy and took her home in the pink truck,” Blakely recalled. “We’ve become great friends with people like Kim from all over the area.”

After three years and hundreds of visits, signature space on the pink fire truck is at a premium, so Blakely came up with a new idea for recognizing Upstate residents diagnosed with cancer – heavy vinyl ribbons strung along the truck.

“We wish that no one had to sign the truck,” Blakely said, “but it makes people feel special so we’ll continue to find a way to do that.”

Those interested in scheduling Berea’s pink fire truck can call 864-294-4848 or send a message via the Facebook page On Fire For a Cure.

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