Firefighters and supporters gathered Saturday in Vancouver Island’s Township of Esquimalt for a friendly hockey game.
The first annual “Ken Gill and Forrest Owens Memorial Hockey” game was held at noon, with the goal of raising funds and awareness for mental health and cancer.
“Today is about us remembering a couple of our good friends, Ken Gill and Forrest Owens,” said Steve Serbic, Esquimalt’s fire chief.
“We are playing a memorial hockey game but also creating a safe space where the general public can come down and talk about cancer and mental illness.”
Occupational cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in the fire service and firefighters experiencing multiple traumatic events have a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress which burdens mental health.
“Ken Gill and Forrest Owens were friends. Many people knew them personally, and they both were huge advocates for mental health. I’ll be picking up a hockey stick and will be playing a few shifts.”
An oncologist, Dr. Kenneth Kunz, spoke at the event. He talked about the impacts of cancer and firefighting on both firefighters and their families.
“Firefighters get all different types of cancers, and they come much earlier than the general public,” he told Global News.
“Firefighters are routinely exposed to thousands of different types of carcinogens that are synthesized in the heat and fire… there are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals… when you burn these plastics and synthetic construction materials, even if firefighters wear all their proactive gear, these molecules are extremely small.
“These molecules penetrate the gear and the bodies are coated by thousands of carcinogens which are absorbed through the skin.”
Ken Gill had a 33-year firefighting career with the Langford, Department of National Defence, Sidney and Oak Bay Fire Departments. He retired in 2014 from the Oak Bay FD as a captain inspector. Ken then served as FD Chaplain to both Oak Bay and Esquimalt Fire Departments and was a strong advocate for mental health. He passed away in 2018.
Forrest Owens had 35 years of service to the Central Saanich community working as a volunteer firefighter, captain, and career assistant fire chief. He was well known and respected in the community not only as a firefighter, but also as an avid fisherman, dedicated coach in hockey and lacrosse, and member on several boards and committees, according to Esquimalt staff. He passed away in 2022.
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