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Fired up: Isle of Palms firefighters excited for their third LOWVELO

Isle of Palms firefighters sit in and on fire truck

Cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters, so the Isle of Palms fire crew is hugely supportive of LOWVELO’s mission.

The Isle of Palms firefighters are back for their third LOWVELO, and they are more fired up than ever! This year, they are not only riding 25 miles and fundraising, but they’re also challenging all Charleston area fire crews to form teams and join them in the fight against cancer. Their peloton of 14 members includes 12 members of the IOP fire department, one friend of the team, and Isle of Palms mayor Jimmy Carroll. And, there’s room for more as they still are recruiting members.

Peloton captain Pete Gray said for firefighters to join LOWVELO makes perfect sense, as it benefits a cause that is fiercely important to their industry — cancer. The International Association of Firefighters reports cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters. According to two large studies focused on firefighters and cancer completed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, firefighters face a 9% increase in cancer diagnoses and a 14% increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general United States population.

“With cancer being one of the leading causes of death for firefighters, we wanted to get involved to help support the researchers and doctors trying to fight this disease, as well as support the members of our community who have also been affected by this disease,” said Gray.

Gray, a member of the Isle of Palms Professional Firefighters Association Local 3967, has been part of the driving force behind critically important advocacy work for firefighters. The association was embroiled in a multi-year battle to get a state law passed to support firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer due to work-related causes.

On Sept. 29, 2020, Governor McMaster signed state bill 1071 into law, and established the Firefighter Cancer Health Care Benefit Plan, providing supplemental insurance for firefighters after they are diagnosed with cancer by helping pay for cancer treatments, including:

o  reimbursing $12,000 a year for out-of-pocket medical expenses,

o  a $20,000 up-front payment,

o  and a $75,000 death benefit.

While Gray and the team celebrated the bill finally being signed, it is unfortunately not yet funded, so there is still work to be done. They look forward to working with Dr. Evan Graboyes, M.D., who specializes in head and neck oncology at Hollings, and his colleagues to help obtain support from the state and to be their voice in the medical community.

Gray and the entire team are as fiercely committed to raising as much as possible for lifesaving cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center as they were in getting their bill signed. The department has been supportive of Hollings and MUSC for many years, holding various fundraisers, including a successful T-shirt sale event. The team hopes that their commitment to LOWVELO inspires other local departments to get involved.

Gray said he’s optimistic that come Nov. 6, there will be several pelotons of firefighters all riding together as one to fight cancer. And to go one step farther, he and his crew will be donning their firefighting gear to ride the last portion of the 25-mile route.

“Being a firefighter, it’s not just about doing our job, it’s also about being invested in the community,” said Gray.

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