Jeffersonville firefighter using cancer diagnosis to help save lives

JEFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- Firefighting is steeped in family tradition for Jeffersonville Deputy Fire Chief Bruce DeArk.

His uncle worked in the Jeffersonville department for 35 years, and so despite the dangers, DeArk didn't hesitate to join the family business. In nearly 20 years on the job, he has battle some menacing fires. But now, the greatest threat is one he never saw.

In March, DeArk was diagnosed with colon cancer.

"It was just a shock to hear those words," he said.

But now that it is there, DeArk is in a fight for his life and for the lives of other firefighters and people at risk.

"Since my diagnoses ... I've heard from a couple of other local departments that there have been guys that step up and say, 'Maybe I need to get checked,'" he said. 

Jeffersonville Fire Chief Eric Hedrick said the latest research shows there's an elevated cancer risk for firefighters.

"We are discovering that firefighters are getting cancer way earlier than the normal general public people," Hedrick said. "I think it's a 30 percent increased rate."

Hedrick said steps are being taken across the country to better protect firefighters.

"We are making some ground, but we have to continue to make some awareness," he said.

It's a different battle, but DeArk is confident the outcome will be the same.

"I have the cancer," he said. "The cancer doesn't have me."

"The department is also having a benefit for DeArk on May 18. The event is 7-11 p.m. at JFD Local #558 Union Hall at 700 East 11th Street. There will be appetizers, drinks, live music and a 50/50 auction.

Tickets are available at JFD Headquarters at 220 East 10th Street or at the Jeffersonville mayor's office.

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