By Dan Fumano, The Province
SURREY — Before the final ringing of the bell for Randy Piticco on Sunday evening, the Surrey fire captain was remembered for his “famous family-secret risotto recipe,” meticulous attention to detail and order, and passion for helping people.
Piticco, who died last month of lung cancer at age 61, was honoured Sunday (Jan. 24) in front of family, friends and hundreds of uniformed firefighters, some of whom came from as far as Vancouver Island and the Okanagan.
After eulogies and tributes, two firefighters took the stage of the Bell Centre for the Performing Arts in Surrey and rang a silver bell nine times, a centuries-old tradition, the chaplain said, that “reflects respect and honour to those who give their lives to their duty.”
Though Piticco retired from the Surrey Fire Service more than five years ago, his death was deemed a “Line of Duty Death” because agencies including WorkSafe B.C. attributed his illness to his 32 years of service as a firefighter.
In recent years, said Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis, trained firefighters have less to fear about physical injury running into a burning building.
He said he worries more about “silent” killers.
“It’s the cancer, the silent thing we’re seeing, and post-traumatic stress and mental health issues associated with the stress of the job,” Garis said. “That’s where we’re losing our firefighters … It’s those hidden things we’re starting to discover and we need to get on those things quickly.”
Garis co-authored a report published last June by the University of the Fraser Valley, examining “amplified cancer rates in firefighters” from exposure to carcinogens.
It says something about the commitment of these men and women, Garis said, who show up for work every day in the service of others, despite the knowledge of the elevated risk of illness.
“It’s not a job. It never has been. You’ll find this is a lifestyle for these folks,” Garis said. “That’s why it’s so tragic when we lose one of our family members.”
Randy Piticco always wanted to be a firefighter, said retired Surrey Fire Batallion Chief Lorne West.
West and Piticco grew up together in Whalley, met at Old Yale Road Elementary School, and, as soon as they were old enough, they signed up together for volunteer firefighting.
“Randy, in my mind, defined really what it meant to be a firefighter,” said West. “All Randy ever wanted to do his whole life was help people.”
Piticco’s obituary described him as “a kind, honest, selfless, brave and honourable man,” and said he was survived by his wife Marilyn, his sister, his father, two children and four granddaughters.
In a procession along 144 Street to the service, behind the pipes and drums and rows of marching firefighters, five uniformed men rode on a restored antique fire truck with the urn containing Piticco’s remains.
The story of that vehicle, a 1920 American LaFrance fire truck, was recalled by Mike McNamara, president of the Surrey Fire Fighters Association.
According to McNamara, when Randy Piticco was 12 or 13 years old, he tagged along one day with his father Lido, a Surrey fire captain, to a fire at Burns Bog.
While wandering around the flats, the young Piticco stumbled upon an abandoned fire truck buried in the mud. He told his dad about the discovery, and the Surrey Firefighters’ Association came together to buy the old truck from the property’s owner, and restored it.
“That truck is now the pride of our fleet,” said McNamara, whose own father served as a Surrey firefighter alongside Lido Piticco.
During the funeral service, McNamara said: “It’s very fitting that today, Randy got his last ride in it.”