Calif. Firefighters Shave Heads to Support Crew Member's Battle with Cancer
The San Diego Union-Tribune
Nov. 14—Before Monday, San Diego firefighters James Shandoan and Anthony Saner had never sported a buzz cut.
They were among a dozen firefighters who one by one sat in a chair in front of their fire station in downtown San Diego, allowing a hair stylist to shave their heads in the cool, evening breeze. They got the haircuts done to show their solidarity with fellow Station One firefighter Nick Hibbs, who is battling cancer.
"I know it's something he would do for us, so I didn't hesitate," Saner said, adding that his new cut was "the shortest I've ever had my hair."
Hibbs, who is undergoing chemotherapy, is a member of the city's bomb-squad. He is a father of two children and married to his high school sweetheart, fellow firefighters said.
He is "tough as nails—one of the hardest-working people we have," said fire Capt. Larry Rawlings.
He and other Station One firefighters said Monday's gesture was a nod to their brotherhood.
"We grow very close, so when somebody is having a personal issue we always want to make sure they know that, just like family, we're there for them and have their back," Rawlings said.
According to the national Firefighter Cancer Support Network, firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than the general U.S. population.
"As firefighters, we can be exposed to a lifetime of toxins in terms of smoke and carcinogens at the scene of an incident in a very compressed period of time, in just a matter of one or two fires," said firefighter Kurtis Bennett, who manages the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's cancer awareness and prevention program.
To combat the risks, San Diego firefighters are urged to wear their air masks for longer while battling fires and to clean their gear once they return to their station, Bennett said, adding that the Fire Department is buying better washing machines.
Rawlings, like other fellow firefighters, said there's no doubt in his mind Hibbs will "beat" cancer.
"Nick is someone that always seems indestructible to us," the captain said. "His cancer is not going to get the best of him."
Colleagues also have shown their support for Hibbs by providing meals for his family and helping with yard cleanup, Bennett said.