Everyday Heroes: Firefighter Tommy Schroeder and the battle against blood cancers

Lt. Tommy Schroeder. (KATU)

Lt. Tommy Schroeder of the Portland Fire Bureau has more than one good reason to join the fight against leukemia and lymphoma cancers.

One is for his firefighter brothers who are more likely to die of cancer.

The other is for his best friend who died of leukemia after just five weeks of feeling under the weather.

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Tommy Schroeder and Ryan Zink met years ago when they were both in an explorer program in junior high.

Schroeder pursued a career in the fire service, while Zink became an architectural engineer.

Two years ago, Ryan started missing social events.

“He got sick in early May,” Schroeder said. “Just started feeling really weak and then in mid-June, early June, five weeks later, they discovered him dead in his own home.”

A friend told Schroeder that Ryan had promised his mom he'd go to the ER after having an uncontrollable nosebleed.

He never went.

“You know, a lot of us middle-aged men, we just kind of brush things off like that and think that we’re sick and we’re just going to get better on our own,” Schroeder said.

He did some research and found that firefighters around the country are 15 percent more likely to die of cancer than the general population.

And many die of blood cancers like leukemia.

“It’s the trans-dermal contact, the soot we get on us, even though we’re wearing hoods, masks and gloves,” Schroeder, who works as a liaison officer at Portland’s 9-1-1 center, said. “You know, you take off your coat and you’ll see a back ring around your neck and your wrists and things like that.”

So, when Lia Lee and Bo Kwon of Koi Fusion nominated him for man of the year for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Schroeder jumped in feet first.

“I didn’t know it yet, but I had a reason to be involved and all of these things kind of came full circle when we were talking about it,” he said.

And so now until early May, Schroeder, along with fellow firefighters in the Fifth Alarm country music band, will play several charity events to raise money for the society and cancer research.

“I’m proud to be a part of that kind of group, you know, that is happy to give back like that,” he said. “I have an opportunity now to use my reasons and my platform as a Portland firefighter or just a firefighter in the industry as a whole to make the biggest impact by raising the most amount of money.”

You can find a full slate of upcoming events in the fight against leukemia and lymphoma online.

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