Pink fire trucks roll through Illinois

NAPERVILLE, Ill. Dave Graybill is filled with pretty big ideas.

"Pretty in pink" ideas to be more exact.

In 2007 the firefighter from Glendale, Ariz., decided he wanted a unique way to show support for women across the country who are battling, survivors of, or affected by any type of cancer just because he thinks "women are the most important people on our planet."

So Graybill created Guardians of the Ribbon, a not-for-profit organization that features firefighters dressed in pink who drive pink fire engines to put smiles on women's faces across the nation.

"Women provide us the security of our homes. Women provide us the simpleness of life. Women provide us love," Graybill said. "We're providing love back by the symbolism of men honoring her by wearing the color pink."

The pink trucks, which are on the road from August to October, will visit more than 40 towns this year as part of their Pink Heals tour in an effort to raise money for local cancer organizations benefiting women.

The next stop on the tour will be Tuesday, Aug. 31, in downtown Naperville.

Local efforts
Naperville firefighter Christopher Brazzale is the head organizer for Naperville's six-hour wellness fair and fundraiser, which will be in the parking lot between Lou Malnati's and Anderson's Bookshop along Jefferson Avenue.

A few months ago, Brazzale was sitting in Fire Station No. 8 reading Firehouse magazine when he came across a most peculiar photo traditional macho firefighters on duty dressed in very nontraditional pink uniforms.

He read more about the organization and realized it wasn't just a silly photo, but rather a serious movement that he wanted Naperville to join.

"I lost my mother to breast cancer 25 years ago and she left my brothers and sisters while they were at a very young age," he said. "So I've always wanted to do something, there's no question about it. It just took me 25 years.

"I wound up calling Dave and talking to him for two hours about this, and I was like, 'This is it. This is what I was looking for. This is what I always wanted to do, some type of fundraiser and a wellness fair,'" he said.

Brazzale, who has never organized any sort of fundraiser before, said he expects at least a few hundred people to come out to see the four pink trucks and 10-foot cancer awareness ribbon.

"When I talk to people about this, their story is the same: They've been affected by women's cancer years ago and always wanted to do something, and they just didn't know what to do," he said.

At the wellness fair, sponsored by Naperville Firefighters Local 4302 and Naperville Fire Department, guests can receive free blood pressure and glucose readings from Edward Hospital nurses, along with some handouts like pink snow cones, pink lemonade and pink fire helmets.

The Firefighters Highland Guard of Naperville Bagpipe Band also will perform, and city and fire department leaders will speak to the crowd.

"All this took was a phone call, and from the phone call it just took off," Brazzale said. "It's just incredible how many people and businesses of Naperville jumped on this. I didn't hear any negativity about the economy, like 'We can't give' or anything."

Money, money
Any profits raised at the Naperville event will go right back to the community, to Edward Hospital Women's Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society. The goal is to raise at least $5,000.

And having the money go somewhere close like Edward is exactly what Graybill wanted to happen when he created the organization.

"One hundred percent of (the money) should stay right in that little county, right in that little town," he said. "People always send it so far away because that's the popular thing to do, but the lady across the street can't even get a wig. People need to wake up."

Graybill said the only money the Guardians collect are profits from the sales of Pink Heals shirts they bring to each stop to pay for gas and insurance for their fleet of pink trucks.

He said the organization refuses to let anyone sponsor or own the trucks because then, he feels, "we sell our souls for money."

"We don't say 'join our movement, give me the money.' If I'm like that, I'm like everyone else," Graybill said. "I don't care about money. All the money stays in their communities."

Mike Prosi, a firefighter/paramedic for the Countryside Fire Protection District, can attest to that. He learned about the Guardians last year when they made a stop in his town, Vernon Hills.

The funds raised at that event were donated to the Lake County YWCA, for a program that helps underprivileged women get mammograms.

"The money stayed in our area," he said. "It didn't go elsewhere in the country, it stayed right here. They're promoting local, they're promoting the community, even though these guys are from out of state. They're just big-hearted firemen that want to help."

Prosi was so inspired that he decided to join the pink army by driving trucks in September for the Pink Heals tour in Florida.

Lots of love
"It's really funny, for something so serious," Prosi said. "The whole idea is to raise awareness, but it seems like the guys are having a lot of fun doing it, too. There is a lot of sadness, but a lot of smiles and joking and overall a good atmosphere.

"That's one of the reasons I wanted to jump on board," he added. "They're raising awareness, but in a positive way."

Brazzale said that putting money aside, his biggest hope for the Naperville event is that the women who show up will learn more about preventing cancer and find some comfort from others in attendance.

"We get a physical every year, as firefighters, and all the literature I'm reading says most women do not get a physical every year," he said. "For me personally, I want women to get a physical every year, for early detection of any cancer. Early detection is key for success with treatment."

At each stop everyone affected by any type of women's cancer is welcome to sign the trucks with permanent markers. Thousands of names and inspirational messages have already been left behind for countless more women and their families to see.

Graybill said about one-third of the women who signed the trucks are younger than 30. At the same time, one message that really stands out is from a Wisconsin woman in her 70s who defeated seven different cancers in her life.

Prosi said between the messages and the reactions of people who show up, each stop can be all-around emotional.

"Maybe you might cry a little bit, maybe you might laugh a little bit, but bottom line is you're going to raise your awareness and everybody is going to learn a little bit more," he said.

Pink Heals is not the end of Graybill's ideas though. For example, in five years or so he hopes to break out blue trucks that females will drive for men with cancer and to purchase a military tank painted pink as a symbol of his "war" against cancer.

Graybill also promotes his "Cares Enough to Wear Pink" in which people agree to wear pink on Oct. 25, 26 and 27 each year in solidarity for women battling not just breast cancer, but all cancers everywhere he goes. He said more than 4,000 cities nationwide already have adopted the idea.

At the end of it all, though, Graybill has just one lesson he hopes everyone he encounters will learn:

"The only way the world works is if you give it yourself completely and expect nothing in return," he said. "But for some reason you get a lot of love back. The love received will be 10 times greater than that given."
By Jessica Cilella
The Chicago Daily Herald

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