It seems almost cliche to talk about the bonds of brotherhood that bind firefighters, police officers and other emergency responders who keep us safe on a daily basis.
These folks put their lives in each other’s hands. They trust each other in extreme and dangerous situations, and that trust extends beyond the job. When one of their own is in trouble, everyone rallies around — even if the person in need works for a different department or unit.
As many times as I’ve heard these stories, they always move me.
This time, the story is about two Largo firefighters fighting cancer and their colleagues raising money for their mounting expenses.
Saturday, 12 10-member teams will compete in an all-day kickball tournament benefitting firefighters Curtis McClendon and Bob DiMarco. Three teams are drawn from the largo Fire Department’s ranks; the Seminole and Lealman fire departments are fielding teams, as are the Largo Police Department and Hillsborough Fire Rescue.
“The guys have just really reached out,” said Macho Liberti, a fellow Largo firefighter who is organizing the event. “It’s just what we do.”
Ironically, McClendon and DiMarco both work out of Station 41 downtown and are on the same crew and shift.
“To have both of them go through it was definitely shocking for all of us,” said Liberti, who works with both men.
McClendon was the first to be diagnosed.
Doctors discovered a malignant tumor growing on his kidney in July 2012 and removed the cancer, along with part of his left kidney. Now there’s a spot on his right kidney, and he might need to have surgery again.
DiMarco was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in February and is in remission after undergoing chemotherapy.
Both men have struggled financially since being diagnosed. DiMarco was out of work in February and March and has been back full-time with the fire department on light duty since then, Liberti said. But he lost a job teaching paramedic classes and won’t be able to return until he is cancer-free.
McClendon was out of work for at least 90 days before returning to the fire department. He’s back to full duty but might have to take another medical leave, Liberti said. He also lost income from his landscaping business while he was sick.
The event organizers haven’t set a goal for how much money they hope to raise Saturday. But they’d like to raise enough to help with both men’s medical expenses and help offset the income they lost due to their illnesses.
At first, fellow firefighters “passed the helmet” to raise money. In February, when DiMarco went through chemotherapy, firefighters shaved their heads as a show of support. Some were in other departments and as far away as New Jersey, Liberti said.
Firefighters wanted to stage an event where DiMarco and McClendon could participate. Both will play on a team in Saturday’s kickball tournament.
Teams pay $250 in advance to compete or $300 the day of the event. While the slate is full, Liberti said anyone interested in entering a team should email him at firstname.lastname@example.org in case someone drops out.
Corporate sponsors can sign on until Wednesday, and raffle items are being accepted until Friday.
In additional to the kickball games, which start at 9 a.m. at the Whitesell Softball Complex at 12555 119th St. in Largo, there will be a 50-50 raffle, and Largo police officers will grill food for sale.
Meet the editor
I’m still adjusting to the back-to-school school schedule this week, but I will be holding a gathering at 9 a.m. Aug. 27 at Mazzaro’s, 2909 22nd Ave. N. in St. Petersburg. Come show off your “I voted” sticker.