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Rock Hill firefighters, EMS rally to help captain's daughter battling cancer

When people were needed to help with a big fundraiser barbecue for the daughter of a Rock Hill fire captain - a 9-year-old named Brooklyn Channell who is smiling through the pain while fighting for her life against cancer - here's how many people from the department decided to volunteer.

Everybody.

That's more than 100 people - plus almost as many spouses with the department's auxiliary.

But that's not all.

Capt. Chris Channell also works on an ambulance for Piedmont EMS. His EMS co-workers threw their hats in, too.

The school Brooklyn attends, York Preparatory Academy, jumped in to help by selling T-shirts, collecting donations - whatever needed to get done.

And just outside the city, at Bethesda Volunteer Fire Department - where barbecue fundraisers are a way of life and a matter of survival for the department - the only question after Brooklyn's June 2 diagnosis was "What weekend should we do it?"

So on Friday and Saturday, this big event will be worked by hundreds of volunteers to raise money to cover the expenses health insurance won't.

All for this girl who was born with a cleft lip and palate, endured as many surgeries for that as the nine years of her life - only to find out that she had rare ovarian cancer and was in the fight of her life.

Brooklyn did not weep. She did not quit. She took her chemotherapy and shaved her head before her hair fell out.

And she fought.

Her mother, Alisa, shaved her head in support. Dad shaved his head. Brother Carson, 11, shaved his head.

And this week, alongside burly firemen and paramedics, Brooklyn helped prepare the food.

"If people want to help me, I sure can help them," she said.

Bob Davenport, in charge of all barbecues at Bethesda - and this one is two tons of chopped pork - stopped what he was doing among more than a dozen volunteers in the heat of the fire department kitchen and wiped his bald head clear of sweat.

He said, loud - Davenport has never spoken quietly in his life as a judge or a fireman - "We all should hope someday we have the guts of this little girl."

Guts is exactly why all the people who have to have guts in their jobs on fire trucks and ambulances are helping this week.

Somebody who risks his life next to you every working day has a sick kid, you just do what needs to be done, said Mark Simmons, the battalion chief for "A" shift at the Rock Hill Fire Department.

Simmons and his wife have coordinated the volunteers who have helped cook and chop and clean.

"There's nothing real difficult to understand here," Simmons said. "The family needs us. We help them. That is what firefighters do. We don't ask about it. We just do it."

In the Channell family, working to pull somebody out of a fire or a smashed car, or saving the life on the way to a hospital, is what all of them do. Chris' father was a paramedic for years before retiring. His brother works for emergency management.

"We don't know how to do anything else," Channell said. "You try and help people in your job if you can."

In the past few days, waves of firefighters and EMS workers from as far away as Lancaster have showed up to help package barbecue or do whatever jobs need to get done.

Some firefighters helped at Bethesda rather than taking meal breaks during their work shifts. Some came after work or before work. Some took vacation days.

Rock Hill firefighter Mac Thomas washed pots and pans and containers.

"Chris and his family aren't just people we know, they are our family," Thomas said. "What do you do when family needs help? Help."

And Friday and Saturday, dozens and dozens will deliver barbecue plates and serve customers and anything else.

Brooklyn is cancer-free right now, her parents said, and her chances at a future are looking up. She does what 9-year-old girls do - giggle. Only without any hair after all those awful surgeries.

She fills containers with barbecue cooked by volunteers and chopped by volunteers. She cuts up with her brother. She smiles and says out loud in that kitchen filled with tough men, "I don't feel sorry for myself. I have all these people who love me."

Those firefighters buried their heads in their chests, so they did not get caught crying as they helped pack meat to help this kid who somehow smiled.

Want to go?

What: Benefit barbecue for 9-year-old Brooklyn Channell, who is battling cancer

Where: Bethesda Volunteer Fire Department, 1705 S.C. 324, Rock Hill

Get there: From Rock Hill, head south on S.C. 322 (Cherry Road), turn left on S.C. 324, the fire department is on the right.

When: 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday; 10:30 a.m. until the food runs out Saturday

Cost: Plates are $7. Pounds are $9. Delivery is available for orders of five or more plates.

Information: Call Lisa Simmons at 803-448-2222

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