Charleston firefighter taking up father's mission after his death

Chief John Winn, pictured left, and his son JJ Winn. John Winn died of cancer earlier this year. (Provided by JJ Winn)

By Natalie

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Following in his father's footsteps, JJ Winn became a firefighter. Like his father, John, he's a man on a mission.

"It was his mission when he was diagnosed with cancer for firefighter health and awareness," JJ Winn said.

Chief Winn tried to use himself as an example. Months before his death he visited the Old Fort Fire Department, where he accepted a fire truck that would be used in his campaign to raise awareness of the cancer that had taken over his body, mesothelioma.

"I want everyone in the state, the nation to realize that mesothelioma{}cancer is out there," Chief John Winn said back in April.

Friend and colleague Gerald Mishoe helped Chief Winn spread the word, getting firefighters to understand they aren't invincible.

"Chief Winn's lung cancer was far advanced before they found it in the normal x-ray, and we know had he had a CT scan, it would have been found early," Mishoe said.

Even his son JJ says he didn't pay enough attention to taking extra precautions himself as a firefighter, who often is surrounded by buildings with asbestos.

"I think it's just being a man. 'It's not going to happen to us, the invincible thing. We're made of steel. We're not going to get sick. We just keep going on.' But, we have to be checked," JJ Winn said.

Gerald Mishoe, who's with the Charleston Firefighter Support Team says they are trying to get firefighters to get screened earlier.

"We want our folks to have a baseline. We want them to have a chest x-ray to get a baseline, particularly for our young folks," Mishoe said.

Mishoe and Winn are now working together, using the old fire truck to get that message out. The 'Big John' truck is going around the state. Mishoe recently drove it back from a convention in Myrtle Beach.

"It was very quiet, and the wind was blowing through the windows. I kind of looked over to the right, and I kind of felt like he was sitting right beside me," Mishoe said.

JJ Winn says he's now honoring his father by taking care of himself and the firefighters he works with, hoping to continue his father's mission.

"We always take care of everybody else, but we never take care of ourselves. Now, its time to take care of ourselves," Winn said.

Now Winn and Mishoe are promoting a benefit event for Winn's firefighter health awareness campaign. They're currently selling tickets for their next event scheduled for August 18 at 4 p.m. at the Elks Lodge in West Ashley. Plane Jane is scheduled to play and barbeque will be served.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. The funding goes to maintenance of the truck and furthering the campaign.

To purchase tickets click here.