A rusty old, discarded fire truck that – as a child – he found buried in mud in a farmer’s field in north Surrey, will now ceremoniously carry Randy Piticco to his final resting place later this month.
In a full honours funeral service, the 61-year-old retired Surrey fire captain will be laid to rest on Sunday, Jan. 24, with a celebration of life being held at Surrey’s Bell Centre, starting at about 3 p.m.
Piticco was a Walnut Grove resident who garnered some media attention last fall, in part due to a series of kind gestures by some of his former colleagues, his friends and family, and even many complete strangers to show their thanks for all he’s done – both professionally and personally.
Piticco died Dec. 22, after being unwell for more than a year. CT scans discovered cancerous growths on his spine, as well as in his bones and lungs in July.
His particular form of cancer is one of 10 recognized in the industry as a hazard to firefighters, and consequently – even though Piticco was retired – his passing is classified as a line-of-duty death, explained Mike McNamara, president of the Surrey Firefighters Association and a long-time friend and coworker.
One of McNamara’s favourite stories about Piticco involved the recovery of that old fire truck, a 1919 LaFrance, which the Piticcos (Randy and his father Lido – also a Surrey firefighter in his day) convinced that farmer to donate to the firehall all those years ago.
That truck was restored in the 1990s, and is now used in parades and other public events. It will bring Piticco into the Bell Centre for the service.
“He’s going to get one last ride in a fire truck, on the LaFrance,” McNamara said with a smile.
Upwards of 900 people are expected to attend Piticco’s service, which starts promptly at 4 p.m. But family arrives about 3:15, and there will be a ceremonial firefighters march with an honour guard including pipes and drums, before the official service.
“It’s quite a respectful thing to witness,” McNamara said, recommending people be in place by 3 p.m.
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There are more than 400 people in the Surrey fire department alone, including dispatch and inspectors, most who are expected to attend, McNamara said.
Plus, there are also firefighters and friends coming from throughout the region, as well as some from Toronto, who met Piticco when he and his wife were granted a life-long wish and flown back east in late October to attend Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.
He described Piticco as a funny, compassionate, and “overall great guy.”
“Randy was one of those guys who was really health conscious,” McNamara added, noting he never smoked.
But exposure to various toxins and smoke through years of service put Piticco and others in harm’s way.
“It’s the risks of our job,” McNamara said, noting he’s actually known Piticco since their fathers worked together as firefighters, decades ago.
Firefighters lobbied the government for years to have several cancers recognized as a direct result of their jobs. In past, McNamara said, the burden of proof laid with each firefighter on a case-by-case basis.
It is “significant” to have it recognized, McNamara said. “It doesn’t do anything to prevent, but helps with health care costs and death benefits for families left behind.”
Now that some of the inherent risks have been identified in their workplace environment, McNamara noted that Piticco and others locally have kept up the battle, more recently lobbying for some of the harm reduction equipment that has been introduced over the years. As well, in Piticco’s stead, they’ll keep pushing for mandatory early screening for firefighters.
“Early detection is more effective and efficient to treating cancer,” he said, wishing his friend’s cancer could have been detected, treated, and cured. “We need to be tested at an earlier age.”
Piticco started as a frontline firefighter in his 20s, and moved up to lieutenant, before retiring as a captain.
He was on the job for 32.5 years. He retired in 2009. His wife Marilyn previously told the Langley Advance that he retired because he was healthy and he wanted to spend some quality time – while he was still young enough to enjoy it – with his family.
“He was such a strong advocate for firefighters,” McNamara said. “Randy was an absolute pleasure to work with… He laughed every day… He cared about everyone… he was such a positive guy. To lose him at 61… it’s tragic.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made online to the Surrey firefighters in Randy Piticco’s name, or directly to the Langley Community Support Group – a stroke recovery organization in Walnut Grove started and operated by his wife, Marilyn.
Randy Piticco made headlines this past fall, when dozens of people came out to sing an impromptu Happy Birthday to the Walnut Grove man who was battling lung cancer. Then, in late October, several people came together to send Randy and his wife Marilyn to a Blue Jays game in Toronto. He passed in December, and a service is planned for the retired fire captain on Jan. 24, at the Bell Centre in Surrey.
Photos below taken by Meaghan Gipps