Manchester firefighters make a bald-faced show of support for a brotherBy MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader January 18. 2018 10:11PM
MANCHESTER — Only Mike Meehan can suffer the anxiety of his battle with cancer. Only Meehan can go under the surgeon’s knife. Only Meehan can bear the nausea and fatigue from chemotherapy.
But he is not alone in bearing the tell-tale identifier of many cancer patients — hairlessness.
Two weeks ago, 12 of his fellow Manchester firefighters shaved their heads in support of their colleague, who has been battling testicular cancer since last year. They did so on a whim, when Meehan, who remains out on sick leave, visited the station one afternoon for lunch.
He announced that his hair was falling out, and that he was getting his head shaved.
His crew — the third shift at Central Fire Station — got out the department clippers and filled the lunchroom floor with their locks.
“We’re a family here,” said firefighter Denny Levasseur, the first to get his head shorn. “We stay together, we stick together. We fight together.”
Meehan and his (unshaven) English mastiff visited the Central Fire Station on Thursday and recalled the communal shearing that took place Jan. 6.
“I said ‘Guys, it’s gotta go,’” Meehan recalled. “We took out the clippers. Everyone in the shift took their hair out. I was floored. These guys didn’t call their wives or girlfriends. They just lined up.”
A lot of ribbing took place during a free-flowing interview with media on Thursday. The balding Levasseur, who is 53, was the first to get cut because he had less to lose. Josh Guay’s hair is growing back quickly because he needs it; the 40-year-old is the shift’s only bachelor.
Meehan, who’s been a firefighter for 16 years, has been on sick leave since mid-December. The father of two has two chemo treatments to go. Testicular cancer is 100 percent curable, and he notes that Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France bicycle race after recovering from testicular cancer. He hopes to return to work in March.
A T-shirt is on sale at the fire station to help the family with expenses. It features a nod to Meehan’s heritage — the Finnish good-luck symbol — and the slogan “Nobody fights alone.”
Cancer is not uncommon among firefighters. They suffer a cancer rate 14 percent higher than the general population, said Brian Paquette, a firefighter and secretary-treasurer of Local 856 of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, the union that represents Manchester firefighters.
He blames it on off-gasses: Furniture, car upholstery, flame retardants and factories all give off carcinogens when they burn, he said. Residue can get on gear and eventually be breathed in, even when precautions are taken, he said.
In 1988, then-Gov. John Sununu signed legislation that established the legal presumption that firefighters with cancer acquired the illness from work. Two years later, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, siding with municipalities who said it was an unfunded mandate.