JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (WAVE) – Bruce DeArk has promoted prevention his whole career - preventing fires, staying safe. But with a recent diagnosis of stage four colon cancer, now DeArk is pushing for a different kind of prevention, by encouraging cancer and health screenings.
"I'm as positive as I can be, and I'm going to continue to be positive. And we're going to get this. And hopefully, help people down the road," said Jeffersonville Fire Deputy Chief Bruce DeArk.
On March 19, DeArk's life changed. It was cancer, a diagnosis he never thought he'd see at his age. Colonoscopies weren't recommended until he turned 50, and at 49, it wasn't a worry - until he got the news.
"It's never been in my family, never had any issues, it was a real shock to me," DeArk said. "Because again, I was told as everyone was, 'Wait until you're 50. You're good.' Because there were [sic] no signs."
The deputy fire chief knew the risks of the job - everyone at the fire department does. The immediate danger seemed to be the fires they run into, not the carcinogens being breathed in while putting fires out. Now, after years of service protecting the community, the job has taken its toll on his body.
"Those words you never want to hear of course. But when I heard them, I took it on. That this is something I want to be a big proponent of - knocking this out and helping others prevent this," DeArk said.
Now, he's pushing for safety - fighting for better gear through safer, newer jackets that better protect his crew members - and a duplicate set of them, so they can always have a clean set to take out on a fire call.
The pipes inside the firehouse work to pull exhaust out of the station and in a few weeks, DeArk said, they'll find out if they've secured gr ant funding for more.
And now, a push from DeArk for every firefighter and first responder: To get checked for cancer early and often.
"There have been a few that have stepped up and went, made them think a little bit. And that's what it's about - please get checked," DeArk said.
While he fights for others, the community is fighting for him.
DeArk's daughter Tori and her friends sell bracelets during their lunch hour at Jeffersonville High School.
"Not only is this raising awareness for colon cancer and everything's that's been happening, it's also raising money for his chemo, which is so expensive," Tori's friend Abigail Peabody said.
In just a few days, the girls made more than $1,000 selling 'Bruce's Bucket Brigade' bracelets. Other shops around town have joined in, too. Friends and community members around Jeffersonville - some DeArk said he has never met - now don the bracelet and the Team Bruce attitude. That small gesture is something that means the world to Tori and Bruce.
"Because I know that they love me and support me and my dad throughout all this," Tori DeArk, Bruce's daughter, said.
That show of support is fueling DeArk when chemo has him feeling burnt out. The support from the community and his family is what's keeping his fire burning now, while he takes on the fight for awareness and beating his cancer.
"I've always been the person out front to help someone. And it's very humbling when it comes on you," DeArk said. "I'm as positive as I can be, and I'm going to continue to be positive. And we're going to get this. And hopefully, help people down the road."
Dr. Eric Yazel with the Clark County Health Department said often insurance providers won't cover colonoscopies for people under 50 without a family history of the issue. Out of pocket, they can cost several thousand dollars.
For first responders regularly exposed to carcinogens, the health department said if you can't afford the high cost of colonoscopies, there are other options to discuss with your doctor, including fecal blood tests, which can often detect early signs of colon cancer.
The community is also organizing an event to help raise money for Bruce's medical costs. That will be held May 18 at the Jeffersonville Union Hall from 7 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. There will be appetizers, drinks and music, a 50/50 raffle as well as silent and live auctions.
For tickets, visit Jeffersonville Fire Department headquarters or the mayor's office in Jeffersonville.