One of the first things you notice about North Shore Fire/Rescue Department Assistant Chief Andrew Harris is that he’s wearing a pink shirt underneath his uniform.
“It’s not typically a color we wear,” said Harris, stating the obvious, and too shy to have his photo taken. In another room nearby, burly firefighters were making food and watching TV as they milled around the Brown Deer station. Yes, they were also pretty in pink. Yes, this is evidence: Real men do wear it.
The firefighters have donned pink T-shirts for the past month to support National Breast Cancer Awareness month. They have swapped their traditional blue T-shirts for the pink. They wear them to calls, and out in the community, as part of their standard uniforms. They’ve been doing it for the entire month of October, and are selling the T-shirts too. It’s the second year they’ve done it. They've also promoted the sales on Facebook and their website.
Police suggested pink
Chief Robert Whitaker said the trend of firefighters wearing pink to promote breast cancer has taken off nationally, and some police departments have done the same. In fact, Brown Deer police first approached the North Shore firefighters about getting involved in the cause.
“This is a primarily male occupation,” Whitaker said. “To have a group of guys walking around in pink T-shirts draws attention. It creates talking points with the community.”
Attention, that is, to the cause of breast cancer. “If this makes someone remember to get a breast exam or motivates them to donate money to the cause, then it’s worth it,” Harris said. “This is a 100-person department and several people have been touched by cancer.”
It all fits into firefighting’s mission of community service, they said. And they are willing to handle the few jokes they incur along the way if it raises awareness to the issue. They all know firefighters whose sisters, wives, and mothers have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
T-shirts are still available
The T shirts are still available for sale. The North Shore Fire/Rescue is selling the T-shirts in conjunction with the North Shore Professional Firefighters Association. The union has been instrumental in the effort, Whitaker said. Proceeds go to breast cancer charity. Although Breast Cancer Awareness Month ends Nov. 1, people can still purchase T-shirts after that date by going to the Brown Deer station at 4401 W. River Lane. Child and adult sizes are available. Children’s T-shirts cost $15 and adult sizes start at $17. North Shore Fire/Rescue covers the communities of Whitefish Bay, Fox Point/Bayside, Shorewood, Glendale, Brown Deer, and River Hills.
The men have faced a little good-natured ribbing from people not used to firefighters showing up to a call in pink.
“One of the nurses at the clinic quipped that we look good in pink,” said Mark Stampf, a firefighter who lives in Glendale.
Firefighter Pete Brierton, of Mukwonago, echoed Stampf, though, in saying the teasing is worth it.
“More awareness and knowledge means lives saved,” he said.
Then, he couldn’t help but add, “I feel very feminine.”
Harris, the assistant chief, said his 8-year-old daughter was amused. “My wife and kids came to the firehouse and we were all in pink. My daughter started giggling and said, ‘That’s disturbing.’”
One time a local homeless man started teasing the firefighters. But he stopped when they explained to him that one of their paramedic’s mothers has breast cancer.
“Cancer touches all of us,” Brierton said.