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Hundreds turn out for memorial to Vancouver firefighter felled by occupational cancer

Click to play video: 'Well-known Vancouver firefighter celebrated'
Well-known Vancouver firefighter celebrated
A celebration of life was held, Thursday, for Capt. Steve Letourneau, a Vancouver firefighter who served in all 20 of the city's fire halls. Letourneau died in 2020 of colorectal cancer which he contracted after exposure to chemicals on the job. John Hua reports – Apr 14, 2022

Hundreds of firefighters from across the continent gathered in downtown Vancouver on Thursday to honour one of their own, cut down early due to cancer linked to on-the-job chemical exposure.

Vancouver Fire Captain Steve Letourneau died at the age of 59 in June 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented his colleagues from honouring him until now.

“He cared about people more than he cared about himself. And he cared about the fire service and his family,” said Vancouver Fire Chief Karen Fry, describing Letourneau as a “firefighter’s firefighter.”

“He was an amazing storyteller, everybody has a story and he would turn off the TV and gather around the crews and tell stories. And he was a wonderful mentor and leader — he built people up instead of breaking them down.”

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Click to play video: 'Cancer within the firefighting community is preventable and many are affected.'
Cancer within the firefighting community is preventable and many are affected.

Letourneau was a 35-year veteran of the city’s fire service, and fought cancer for more than five years after being given only months to live.

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Firefighters from across Canada turned out to the memorial, which included a uniformed procession from the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services Hall #7 on Haro Street to St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church.

At Burrard and Smithe streets, tower trucks with their ladders raised formed an arch, suspending a massive Canadian flag.

“This was a tough service for us because Steve passed in June of 2020 in the middle of COVID, so it’s not been until today that we’ve been able to honour our fallen member,” Vancouver Fire Fighters’ Union President Robert Weeks said.

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“He meant so much to this department. He was an exception firefighter and an exception officer.”

Occupational cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters in North America.

A recent study by the University of the Fraser Valley found that 90 per cent of Canadian firefighter fatality claims were due to cancer.

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