OLYMPIA, Wash. — A fire captain who dedicated his life to helping others is in need of help himself. It’s one battle Olympia Fire Department Capt. Jim Brown never thought he’d have to fight, and a tragic consequence of the job he’s loved for so long.
For more than two decades, Brown has been fighting to save lives. Though he knew risks were attached to every call, he had no idea his biggest battle was yet to come.
“When I got started in this business, I never thought cancer was going to be something that would affect me,” said Brown.
A trained athlete who enjoys cycling, snorkeling and snowboarding with his family, Brown never smoked a day in his life, but in May 2015, he was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. If left untreated, doctors gave him three months to live.
“They did find that my cancer was attached to my job,” said Brown. “We really started taking a look at how we did business and how we decontaminated ourselves after fires.”
His cancer diagnosis has affected his whole department, especially knowing Brown may not be alone. They say firefighters are twice as likely to get cancer as the general public.
“It’s tolling and to see someone who you’ve worked with, it’s hard,” said Olympia Police Fire Department Battalion Chief J.D. Young. “To find out that he had diagnosis was a huge shock and it really put a spotlight on the fact that yeah, this could happen to anybody. “
It’s why Jim is taking on a new fight, protecting his fellow firefighters from cancer.
“Then we have another set of gear that the guys can put in the wash and service right away, so that way we’re not continually being exposed to the carcinogens still lingering in the gear,” said Brown.
Brown is now educating other firefighters about best practices for disease prevention. He’s also working to put a new face on lung cancer, the face of a firefighter, father, husband, who despite never having smoked, came down with this disease anyway.
“What people like me are doing and the Bonnie J. Addario Foundation is to change the face of lung cancer to say anyone is at risk,” said Brown.
“My intent is to keep getting up every day, keep beating cancer, and keep living life as fully as a I can.