Brian C. Rittmeyer
The Valley News-Dispatch, Tarentum, Pa.
A New Kensington volunteer firefighter accustomed to helping others is appreciative that his community is rallying to his aid now that he is in need.
Chris Ploski, 59, is a firefighter with the city’s No. 2 engine company in Parnassus. He was diagnosed in late September with stage 4 small cell lung cancer, which has spread to the pituitary gland in his brain.
Ploski works as a security guard but has no health insurance. His wife, Emily, has insurance through her job as a van driver with the New Kensington-Arnold School District, but it doesn’t cover him.
A friend, Annette Berardone Meyers, started a GoFundMe campaign to help them. It had raised almost $4,700 toward an $8,000 goal as of Tuesday. Fifty-five donors had given in two days.
“This thing just took off. It’s amazing,” Emily Ploski said. “Chris is very private. He doesn’t like to be fussed over. He’s just overwhelmed and very appreciative of everything that everybody’s doing.”
Emily Ploski, 58, said she and her husband have been together since they were teenagers. They’ve been married for 37 years. They have a son, CJ, who is 28 and a firefighter in the same company as his father.
Emily said Chris was scheduled to start radiation treatment Wednesday but ended up in the hospital Tuesday.
Emily said her husband first thought he was suffering from a sinus infection, which he tried treating with stuff from a dollar store. But when he woke up Sept. 24, he couldn’t see out of one eye.
After first going to a clinic, they wound up at Allegheny Valley, where multiple tests were done.
“Each doctor had something worse to say,” she said.
When told he needed brain surgery, Emily said Chris was more worried about showing her how to pay the bills, and where the passwords are.
“He came home and we just stared at each other. What do we do from here?” she said.
In addition to being a firefighter, Chris was a past president of Eagles Aerie 533. The fire company and the Eagles said they each are working on fundraising efforts to help him and his family.
“We want to get together and try to come up with something to raise money for him and help with the bills and whatnot,” Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Davis said.
Fire Chief Ed Saliba described Chris as soft-spoken and likable.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” Saliba said. “Chris is probably one of the most active firefighters in the department for probably the last seven or eight years.
“As a volunteer firefighter, he’s a very giving type of a person. He’s always been a type of person that gives back.”
Davis said Chris is a close personal friend, and they talked for nearly two hours on Saturday.
“His prognosis is not what you want to hear,” Davis said.
Davis said Chris is one of their primary drivers and a safety officer, whose job is to make sure other firefighters are safe at fire scenes.
“He was always there for daylight calls,” Davis said. “It seems like every time I go to a call, he’s there.”
Davis said Chris hasn’t been around the fire station for about a month.
“We certainly miss him,” he said. “We’re all pulling for him and rooting for him. Emily and Chris have a very positive attitude toward this. They’re vowing to fight this with every fiber of their body.”
Emily said doctors told them they’ve seen lung cancer spread to the pituitary gland in the brain before, but it’s rare.
“They don’t give you much hope at stage 4,” she said. “You have to fight it mentally. I have to try to keep him positive to fight this. If he gives up, that’s half the battle.
“If you want to keep living, you have to fight,” she said. “I don’t care if I have to sell everything, we will fight.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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