California Fire Department rolls out pink engine to support cancer fighters

MARTINEZ; Calif. (KGO) -- In California, Contra Costa County Fire Protection District has teamed up with United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, Local 1230 to show their support for those who have been impacted by cancer.

"This is going to help people that are stricken with cancer in a multitude of ways. The purpose behind this whole thing is to let people know that they are not alone. There are people out there that are pulling for you and there's people out there that are willing to fight for you," said Chris Leimpeter, Fire Captain in Contra Costa County. "Your firefighters are here, not just on a 9-1-1 basis. We're moms, we're dads, we're brothers. We are all things that they are as well."

Project Pink Wheels launched in October 2020 as a vehicle of hope for the Contra Costa community. Volunteer fire firefighters will drive a bright pink KME fire engine and escort cancer patients to their first or last cancer treatment within Contra Costa County.

Project Pink Wheels also serves as a "rolling memorial." Local cancer survivors and fighters are encouraged to write their name on the fire engine. Family members of past cancer fighters are invited to write the names to honor their loved ones.

Leimpeters wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 and their family received an overflowing amount of support from his community. After his wife survived her fight against cancer, his goal was to pay it forward by being that sign of support for his surrounding community.

"When she was hit with cancer, her strength, her courage, and her inspiration to me, helped me to develop this," said Chris Leimpeter. "I couldn't have done it without her."

"When he (Chris Leimpeter) first started putting it together, one of the things that I immediately thought was this was sort of a symbol for people within the community that we see you and you are not alone," said Amy Leimpeter, cancer survivor. "When you go into your first treatment, you are so nervous and when you are coming out with your last appointment, it's exciting. This would be so cool to celebrate it all because that's really what it should be."

Pink is the color known to represent breast cancer, but Project Pink Wheels is a vehicle that represents all cancers.

11-year-old Finley Brown, a Moraga resident and cancer survivor, was invited to sign the pink engine. Instead of writing her own name on the fire engine, she decided to honor her grandfather who lost his battle against cancer. Brown was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a form of rare kidney cancer, three days after her sixth birthday. On her last chemotherapy treatment, Moraga-Orinda Fire Department escorted her to her final appointment.

"It just made me feel very happy, everyone who rides in this truck will know the people who signed it, know about it, and we're supporting them," said Brown. "I am really grateful for this, that Contra Costa County Fire was doing this for cancer survivors."

After four months, Project Pink Wheels was able to transport their first cancer survivor from her last cancer treatment.

14-year-old Brandi Pico started feeling pain in her leg in March of 2020. After thorough testing, Pico was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare bone tumor.

Since her diagnosis, it has been her family's mission to spread awareness about the importance of taking your health seriously.

The Pico family has lived in the city of Martinez for generations, with the help of the community and close friends, they were able to get through this difficult time.

"People we don't know have come out and shown their support," said Tracy Pico, Brandi's Mother. "A lot of people reaching out, offering help, and making dinners for us. Just having that support has meant a lot to us."

To celebrate Brandis last cancer treatment, Project Pink Wheels drove Brandi and her sister to the heart of Downtown Martinez where her closest friends and family members waited for her homecoming with love and support.

"I really liked it," said Brandi Pico, cancer survivor. "That I could come home celebrating in a fire truck, too. I enjoyed it."

"It is kind of that community bonding vehicle where it shows the community that were here for you," said Leimpeter. "We understand the battles and the struggles that you are going through. We just want to be a sign of support, a sign of strength, a sign of hope. That your fight, even though you're going through it, we are there with you."
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