Firefighter winning biggest fight

CLEARVIEW — Rick Peters came back to the fire station overwhelmed with gratitude.

After months of chemotherapy, he returned to normal duty Wednesday morning.

He looked healthier than he did just a few months ago, but his eyes now have a knowing sadness. He fought a battle, and he won.

Peters, 48, is a fire lieutenant and longtime paramedic at Snohomish County Fire District 7 in Clearview. He also serves as the Local 2781 union president and represents more than two dozen unions in the Washington State Council of Fire Firefighters.

In January, Peters was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A natural leader with a big family, he was used to taking care of others. Illness made him take a step back. He had to let others take care of him.

Before cancer, Peters said he never realized how much people care about one another, and how his life intersected with so many others. When he got sick, dozens of friends and family members showed up to offer support.

“They came to my rescue,” he said.

Two of Peters’ closest crew members helped him every step of the way.

Firefighters Ryan Stupey and Bill Ekse picked Peters up from chemo. They made him meals, looked after his kids and let him stay the night when the chemo made him too sick to drive.

To welcome Peters back Wednesday morning, the firefighters brought a cake, and Stupey made Peters a BLT sandwich for breakfast. They planned dinner as well.

Peters hasn’t made any big plans for his recovery, he said. For so long, he had to focus on healing.

He’ll have maintenance chemo sessions every few months for the next two years to extend his remission.

He thought of keeping his new bald look, but his daughter, 13, asked him to grow his hair back.

“So she knows I’m doing better,” he said.

Peters was happy to be back.

He missed his job, especially preparing the fire vehicles for calls in the morning and going out to help people, he said.

He can’t help but think differently about the harmful chemicals that firefighters are exposed to, he said. He even gave the crews a talk about better securing the equipment that runs the truck exhaust out of the station.

Peters hopes to start working with cancer awareness groups, especially those that help firefighters. He wants to share what he’s learned with others who have cancer or are affected by it. Other survivors helped him get through the pain, and he wants to do that for someone else.

He’s also back to professional drumming, with gigs lined up in the Snohomish area this weekend.

Peters said he feels more tolerant these days, and tries to take himself less seriously. He knows he was lucky to have a support network and access to quality medical care.

He was lucky he was strong enough to take on cancer, he said. He was lucky not to have to fight it alone.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449;

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