Fire dept. rallies around assistant chief battling cancer
Firefighters showed up after Assistant Chief Kim Strickland had surgery to give her a ride home in a pink firetruck
By Nikie Mayo
Anderson Independent Mail
ANDERSON, S.C. — Kim Strickland, a veteran South Carolina firefighter, has always known she could count on her crew.
For 20 years, she has been on the front lines battling blazes in the Upstate, most of that time as a volunteer with the Broadway fire station in Anderson County, where she serves as assistant chief. Her firefighting colleagues have always been right beside her.
So when Strickland, 46, recently learned she was taking on the battle of her life, her fellow firefighters did what they always do: They rallied beside her.
Strickland learned in October that she had breast cancer.
After she had surgery this week, firefighters showed up at AnMed Health Women and Children's Hospital on Wednesday to give her a ride home in a pink firetruck.
"It was a nice surprise," Strickland said Thursday. "I have always known that firefighters are part of a family. I have always known that we have each others backs in hard times. But I never expected this. I'm so grateful for everyone who has supported me."
Why did they do it?
Broadway Fire Chief David Burnette has a simple answer.
"In this family, no one fights alone."
Starting a journey
In April, Strickland noticed a cyst near her right breast. It wasn't bothering her, she said. There is no history of breast cancer in her family. After seeking medical advice, she decided to keep monitoring the cyst and to seek additional testing in six months. In early October, before she could even get to that six-month checkup, she discovered a lump on her left breast.
"I knew then that was telling me something," she said. "I knew there was no waiting."
Testing revealed breast cancer.
"The doctors, the way they described it, was that the cancer was showing up in a way that looked like paint splatters," Strickland said.
After Strickland received the diagnosis Oct. 16, things started to move quickly.
Friends, firefighters and co-workers wanted a way to show Strickland moral support
They adopted #TeamStrick and had T-shirts made.
One of Strickland's friends knew that Berea Fire Department in Greenville County had a pink firetruck to honor those battling cancer and reached out to the station.
Berea Fire Department backs "On Fire For a Cure," a program that raises money for cancer research.
The pink truck, a 1987 fire engine that got a dramatic paint job, is one of the physical reminders of the program for the community. The engine bears the names of 43 people who have fought cancer, many of them connected to firefighters. The engine is retired from firefighting, but is now doing some of its most important work, Berea Sgt. Bruce Blakely said.
"People who are fighting cancer sometimes feel they don't have anything to smile about," Blakely said. "We want to do whatever we can to bolster their spirits, to celebrate every little victory. So when we heard about Kim, we knew we had to drive the truck to her."
Along with the pink truck from Berea, Strickland was escorted Wednesday by a tanker from Broadway and an engine from Anderson City Fire Department.
Kim Strickland's father, the late Gary Strickland, was a firefighter in Anderson for more than 40 years.
Anderson Fire Chief Randy Bratcher said he watched Kim Strickland grow up and learn from her dad.
"Kim has a heck of a will," Bratcher said. "She is a strong person and she is going to beat this and be even stronger after she comes through it."
Burnette, the chief at Broadway, said he and others at the station stand ready to help Strickland.
"It's just a family thing," he said. "We are a family of firefighters and you treat your family the best way you know how, especially when the times are tough. Kim is vital to us. She keeps the family together. She is our heartbeat."
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