By Victoria Hansenvhansen@abcnews4.com
GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (WCIV) - A Goose Creek father is finally home just in time for Father's Day. It was a big deal for a man who has served the community for more than 25 years and now needs help himself.
Flags and fire trucks line a Goose Creek street. There's no emergency, but a sense of urgency. This is a surprise homecoming for a local firefighter.
"He has helped many, many people and it's the least we can do to show how much he means to us," said New Jersey fireman Andrew Magee.
Firefighters and EMS workers from the East Coast stand along the driveway of the Skipton family home. All wear orange T-shirts. It's hard to tell them apart until they talk.
"We drove all night," said Christopher Williams in a thick South Jersey accent. "I mean we worked last night until 1 a.m., got off and drove 12 hours to come down here to see Steve home from the hospital."
Steve Skipton is a Goose Creek firefighter who moved to the Lowcountry from New Jersey several years ago. There he worked as a firefighter and an EMT in one of the nation's most dangerous cities, Camden, New Jersey.
"When the twin towers fell, Steve and I were working in Camden together," said Williams. "We both went to New York. Within 24 hours we were up at the twin towers."
At 41 years old, Skipton has cancer. It's in his kidneys, lungs and his pelvis. He hasn't worn his Goose Creek fire gear since March.
"It's definitely an empty feeling," said Goose Creek fire captain Todd Pruitt. "When Steve's in the fire house, you know he's there."
"You know you're angry. It seems unfair," said Goose Creek Fire Chief Steve Chapman. "You just don't know where it came from. It's just one of those challenges that you're given in life."
But cancer is a challenge firefighters face more often than the rest of us.
According to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, respiratory, digestive, and urinary system cancers show up in higher rates among firefighters.
Further, the firefighters in the study had a rate of mesothelioma twice that of the rest of the U.S. population.
A second phase of the study is planned that will look at the employment records of the study group to see what conclusions can be drawn from the exposures they faced as a result of their jobs.
But far removed from studies and researchers sits Skipton, a father of four and a brother to dozens more.
"I was stunned, but it was good to see him get out of that stretcher walk up the driveway on his own and greet his men, his brothers," said Williams.
"I've been in the fire service for over 20 years and that is probably the hardest thing I've ever seen," said engineer paramedic David Masirovits. "That was tough."
But Skipton is finally home. Behind closed doors he'll face his fight and he won't go it alone.
"We're a family. That's our brother and when he hurts and they hurt, we hurt," said Masirovits.
They're trained that no man goes into a blaze alone. It's a lesson that holds true even when the last fire has been fought.
"You know he's got a long battle in front of him and we're going to be with him every step of the way," Chapman said.
There's a fundraiser Sunday, June 22 at 2 p.m. to benefit the Skipton family. It's a cornhole tournament at LG's Bar and Grill in Hanahan.