Everett’s first female firefighter dies from cancer
Everett firefighters are mourning the loss of a trailblazer.
Susan Pipitone, the department’s first and only active-duty female firefighter, will be buried from an Everett funeral home Saturday, three days after she died from occupational cancer.
Her death came one week after Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation that designated cancer as a work-related injury for Massachusetts firefighters and mandated coverage for the costs of medical treatment and workdays missed because of the illness.
The Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, the statewide union, announced Pipitone’s line-of-duty death Thursday. Her funeral, scheduled for 10 a.m. at Rocco & Sons Funeral Home, will include full department honors.
“We’re going to send her off right,” said Craig Hardy, president of the Everett firefighters union. “That’s for sure.”
Pipitone, 56, of Haverhill, grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and had been a member of the department for 25 years. She worked as a pump operator on Engine 1, Everett Fire Chief Tony Carli said.
“It’s a challenging, stressful job, at times, [but] she did it,” Carli said, adding later, “She was a pleasure to work with. I’m fortunate to have met a person like her.”
Carli and Pipitone worked closely together, he said, when he was a captain and she was his driver on Engine 1.
Carli joined the department 18 years ago, so he wasn’t there to see what challenges Pipitone faced initially as its first female firefighter.
“I’m sure she had her struggles . . . I can’t imagine what that was like,” he said.
Pipitone wouldn’t have allowed anyone to doubt her abilities for long, Hardy said.
“Sue was the type of person that she would have showed them she could do it,” said Hardy, a firefighter for 20 years.
Pipitone fit in well with her male coworkers and seemed to like having a unique role in the department, he said.
“She loved driving her Engine 1, and I think she enjoyed being the only woman,” he said. “She was one of us, and it really hurts to see her go.”
Pipitone also enjoyed playing music, painting pictures, and spending time with her dog and with her spouse, Darlene Braley, who was “really loving and supportive” throughout her illness, Hardy said.
She had previously been treated for cancer a few years earlier, he said, adding that losing her to a recurrence of the illness after she had beaten it once “makes it doubly sad.”
Occupational cancers are caused by workplace exposure to carcinogens and account for about 3 percent to 6 percent of all cancers, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency.
A study conducted by the institute found that firefighters are 9 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than the general population and 14 percent more likely to die from cancer.
“This cancer epidemic is really hitting the fire service hard,” Hardy said.
Pipitone was a private person, and she kept the seriousness of her condition to herself until just a few days before her death, Hardy said.
“She was such a fighter that she was letting us think that she was going to beat it and everything was all right,” he said.
Carli said Pipitone “was a strong person and she fought a really good fight for . . . over a year.”
On the day before she died, Pipitone received visits from many of Everett’s more than 100 firefighters, Carli said.
“A lot of members went through and visited with her. She was able to enjoy our company. . . . It was a special day,” he said.