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May 28, 2013
By Laura King


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May 28, 2013, Caledon, Ont. - I had to take a deep breath yesterday when I called up the story we did in the March 2012 issue of Fire Fighting in Canada about firefighters and cancer.

For two reasons.

First, the picture of Caledon Deputy Chief Tony Lippers, who died last Wednesday of complications from the esophageal cancer he fought and thought he had conquered, brought me back to that day – a sunny, winter morning when I stopped at Caledon’s Station 309 on my way to cover a trial in Owen Sound.

May 28, 2013, Caledon, Ont. – I had to take a deep breath yesterday when
I called up the story we did in the March 2012 issue of Fire Fighting in Canada about firefighters and cancer.

For two reasons.

First, the picture of Caledon Deputy Chief Tony Lippers, who died last Wednesday of complications from the esophageal cancer he fought and thought he had conquered, brought me back to that day – a sunny, winter morning when I stopped at Caledon’s Station 309 on my way to cover a trial in Owen Sound.

Tony had just returned to work part-time and had people in the station doing some fine-tuning on a new aerial. We took some nice photos outside in the morning light, then went indoors to take more.

Tony had lost weight after his surgery and his uniform shirt and pants were baggy; he asked me to make sure I made him look good (as do all photographers’ subjects!) Tony, of course, who was always in good humour, played along when I asked him to stand in 10 different places because the light in the truck bay was wonky, and smiled for the camera every time, always a professional.

I had interviewed Tony earlier, one afternoon in his tiny office in the Caledon Fire and Emergency Services building, when he wasn’t yet back to work but was itching to be; he wanted to be in uniform in the photos with the story in the magazine, so we arranged that second meeting a few weeks later at the station on Charleston Sideroad in Caledon Village.

Tony’s funeral is this morning, a line-of-duty-death service at the Caledon Community Complex, just up the street from the fire office. Firefighters were to muster at 8:30 a.m. at a nearby school for a 10 a.m. march to the complex and an 11 a.m. service. Tony’s wish was to ride through town on the old pumper; it is to be fulfilled.

I didn’t know Tony well, but I knew him well enough to have understood his passion for the fire service and his desire to make things easier for those who experienced similar health challenges. I had met Tony several times at conferences – including an entertaining evening at FDIC in Indianapolis a few years ago with Dependable’s Pino Natale and FFIC sales manager Catherine Connolly that involved a pub full of firefighters and a Darley hospitality suite – and I sat with Tony one afternoon in early 2012 to interview him about an idea spinning around in his head for some kind of a program to guide firefighters through the stressful and often confusing process of dealing with cancer, WSIB, hospital care and being a patient (and a patient patient at that.). Tony made my job easy –  I asked only one question: What happened?

Tony talked for 2.5 hours about his esophageal cancer – a cancer that is recognized under presumptive legislation in Ontario as a line-of-duty illness – and the challenges he and his wife, Barb, experienced as he went through treatment. I opted not to write a story, but to let Tony do the talking in the magazine, and ran the interview pretty much verbatim, edited only for length and clarity.

What struck me was Tony’s honesty about the fact that he knew little about the health-care process and how to be a patient – I’ve joked since then that because women give birth to children, most of us become familiar with hospital protocol and that loss of dignity fairly early in our lives but that men (particularly those in emergency services?) tend to think they’re invincible and are often surprised when they are on the receiving end of the health-care system. Tony would have agreed wholeheartedly.

You can read Tony’s words here, and you should. 

Which brings me to the second reason for that deep breath. The story in the March 2012 issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, with a healthy and vibrant looking Tony Lippers on the cover, is about three firefighters – Dave Sutton, the fire chief in LaSalle, Ont., spoke on behalf of Ken Day, who had lost his battle with colon cancer; Tony, and Hector Babin – the volunteer fire chief in Eel Brook, N.S. – told their own poignant stories. Hector died in November. And now Tony.

As I said in my editor’s note to that story – and as I know at least one of Tony’s colleagues will mention when he speaks at this morning’s service – Ken, Tony and Hector shared a mission: to make things better for others, to improve the system for early detection, to advocate for self-care and prevention, and to ease the burden on the families of firefighters who die in the line of duty. Those three voices have been quieted but not silenced. It’s our turn to speak for them.


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