Friday, 09 December 2011 00:00
Founded in 2005, the Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN) is a group of cancer survivors, caregivers and volunteers that was formed with one goal in mind: to provide timely support to fire and EMS employees and family members diagnosed with any form of cancer.
During a moving ceremony that involved several former cancer survivors/firefighters, the FCSN donated a bell to the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s Monter Cancer Center in Lake Success. In a symbolic gesture of “ringing in the good news,” patients will ring the 60-pound bell when they complete their courses of treatment. The ringing of the bell symbolizes leaving cancer in the past and looking towards the future. The bell was donated by the Smithtown Fire Department.
Among the featured speakers during a press conference packed with firefighters from squads throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties was Lee Ielpi, a 26-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), who became a volunteer with his local Great Neck Vigilant Fire Department in 1963, rising to the rank of chief. On Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Ielpi arrived at the World Trade Center (WTC) within a half hour of the second collapse to organize operations until midnight of the first night. As is tradition within FDNY, Mr. Ielpi worked daily for nine months to bring home all that were lost, including his son Jonathan Ielpi, FDNY Squad 288. A survivor of a rare form of leukemia known as Waldenstrom Syndrome, Mr. Ielpy now works with the 9/11 Families organization. Before a scheduled appearance at the United Nations where he was tapped to speak about terrorism, Mr. Ielpi praised the work of the FCSN and encouraged all his brother and sister firefighters to go for an annual check-up. “You never think it will happen to you, but it may,” he said. “There’s no reason for us to ignore our annual check-ups and many of us do that. We have to think about our families and take care of ourselves so we can keep doing this work that we all love so much.”
Following remarks by Antonio J. Cruz, director of the NYS Fire Cancer Support Network (and a cancer survivor) and his assistant director, Ron Barz, (whose cancer was treated by Louis Kavoussi, MD, Chair, Urology, NS-LIJ), Mr. Ielpi was invited to ring the bell for the first time. As firefighters from Nassau and Suffolk counties, health system representatives, and cancer survivors gathered around the bell, Mr. Ielpi inaugurated the bell while saying, “This is for all those who survived and all who we remember.”
Dr. Kavoussi expressed the feelings of the day best when, during his remarks, he noted: “I’ve always been a huge fan of the firefighters. We thank you so much for the great care you show us as you do your life-saving work, and we are honored to see so many of you with us here today.”