To show support for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, fire departments across the country have been wearing pink throughout October.
The Clayton Fire Department will be among those pink-clad individuals later this week — a gesture that has become especially meaningful to the entire brigade.
“It started as a way to give back to the community but it’s grown into much more,” Clayton Fire Captain Ryan Harrell said. “After we started raising money, the wife of one of our former firefighters developed breast cancer and ended up passing away. Now it’s a tribute to her and it’s had a little extra meaning ever since.”
Today a memorial brick in honor of Patti Watkins, the wife of Bo Watkins, a retired Clayton firefighter, sits in a garden in front of the Clayton firehouse, while the 30-plus firefighters who protect and dedicate their lives to the community they serve wear her initials on their sleeves every day.
On Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. they will honor her and many others battling the disease yet again with the 8th Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Barbecue in front of the Clayton Firehouse on 10 North Bemiston Avenue.
All proceeds will benefit the David C. Pratt Cancer Center, the same hospital Watkins was being treated at before her untimely passing.
The department has put forth about $3,000 to $4,000 every October since 2010, all to help fight breast cancer. In 2016 alone, the department raised $30,000 from two different cancer awareness events, the barbecue included.
“It kind of motivated us more than anything and I know Bo enjoys being there and seeing everybody help out a great cause,” Harrell said. “We really tried to step it up a little bit and the last couple years we’ve been able to put forth a pretty good donation for her memory.”
When they’re not in the middle of a call, both on-duty and off-duty firefighters will spend their free time preparing the menu, which include hamburgers, chicken legs, veggie burgers, hot dogs and their famous pulled pork.
Bryan Brielmaier will man the grill and for good reason. Brielmaier took first place in the BackStoppers Battle of the Badges barbecue competition this summer and will be preparing about 40 pork loins for the event.
“He uses his special seasoning and we’ve got a lot of people that ask us year round when the Breast Cancer Barbecue is going to be for that reason alone,” Harrell said. “But it’s not just a few of us. Altogether every bit of our 30-guy department is involved.”
For $9 members of the community in Clayton and beyond can get lunch on the fire department, which includes two sides and a drink. The department will also be accepting donations, holding a raffle and selling the same pinked-out breast cancer awareness T-Shirts they’ll be wearing for $20.
“It’s grown into something that was bigger than we ever expected,” Harrell said. “We get the Parks Department out here helping us, the police department comes over and helps us and fire departments from all over come in and place orders and have dinner and lunch on us.”