OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - There is nothing like the sound of that stick hitting the puck and the skates sliding across the ice. Hockey is game all its own. But in a charity hockey game being played in Oakland, it’s all about the people.
Every player in that game is a firefighter, Oakland Fire Lt. Jim Halpin says they've come from San Francisco, San Jose, Alameda County, Contra Costa, Richmond, Southern Marin, Santa Rosa, adding "these are the good guys our friends of 20 years."
Almost every year for the past decade, these firefighters have come from across the Bay Area to play and raise money for a cause they care about. Back in 2015, they played for Miley, who is the daughter of an Oakland firefighter who was fighting a rare cancer. It was a fight she would later win.
Melissa Fitzgerald the General Manager of Oakland Ice, says "the San Jose Sharks organization is so proud to be a part of this, the Oakland Ice Center is the original location for the first charity game that the Oakland firefighters organized and we are thrilled to have it back again."
This year's game will focus on the cancers that firefighters are in danger of getting. "Every day a firefighter is exposed to dangerous cancer causing toxins whether it be by a car fire structure fire or hazmat incident research suggest firefighters are getting cancer across the country at a very alarming rate so with this we wanted to do more,” says Dan Slone.
Slone is one of the founders of the Oakland Firefighter Cancer Prevention Foundation. It was started a year ago with a mission to help educate and screen and protect and support other departments in creating their own foundations. “There are firefighters throughout the whole Bay Area that are in with this cause and we want to be a support group not just to Oakland firefighters here but in firefighters across the Bay Area.” explains Slone.
Slone says a lot of information is still being collected about cancer and firefighters, but says what is known makes it is clear that more needs to be done. Recently a group of Oakland firefighters headed to the Midwest to try to find out more.
“We are part of testing in Chicago. a few of us from Oakland went out and we did blood samples skin samples and urine samples before during and after a fire monitored our heartrate and all of our vitals came back,” says Nathan Leal an engineer with the Oakland Fire Department, “and they were able to prove that we had exceeded levels of contaminants that were found in most cancers.”
It's not an easy thing they say to talk about. Leal admits “people always struggle with mortality it's human nature.” And while they say none of it will stop them from running towards danger to save lives, they also say that more needs to be done especially in the firehouse. Many in Oakland are decades’ old which raise concerns over ventilation and equipment storage. According to Leal “Those are going to be challenges of how we clean our equipment where we store our equipment and hopefully changing things in the firehouse so it’s more reducing contamination because our job is not going to change when someone calls 911 it's more of reducing the after exposure.”
And they say the foundation needs financial support to accomplish its goals. Last year the Foundation made sure everyone had colon and bladder screenings. But the to-do list is long.
“We have to attack it head on and this goes home we don't want to bring this stuff home to our families and it is all about the preventative aspect of it.” says Slone. And so they play to raise money and awareness and coming together on the ice just seems to make sense, because these guys don't just love the job, they also love the game.