Working a 24-hour shift at the firehouse is tiring, but North Haven firefighter Jason Cusack is upbeat, speaking about the more than $54,000 raised this year at the annual St. Baldrick's Foundation's head-shaving fundraiser for children with cancer. This event was held Feb. 22 at O'Tooles Irish Pub for the third year in a row.
Jason is also the chair of the event and member of the New Haven County Firefighters Emerald Society for the past seven years, over which time the group has raised $500,000 for St. Baldrick's Foundation, which is dear to his heart.
Jason says he's uplifted by how much this event has grown every year. It grew from 20 people to now more than 100 people who get their heads shaved. These fireman (or sometimes just bar patrons) come from East Haven, Branford, Guilford, North Haven ,and surrounding areas. They've even had a handful of women shave their heads, including Jason's wife, Diane.
His wife is his co-chair-"She's a part of me, and when I found out about this and shared it with her, she threw herself into it right away."
He admits the charity takes up a lot of time, but says it's completely worth it.
And how about shaving your head?
Jason says participants in this event "all shave their head by choice, but kids with cancer don't have that choice, so this is the least they could do."
The motto at St. Baldrick's is "they are shaving away the cancer." The money raised goes to cancer research grants.
Logan Solomon, 6, was the child honored recently. He has acute lymphoblastic leukemia; he was diagnosed with this disease three years ago. After this year's shearing event, Jason received the good news that Logan is currently in remission.
When asked if he knew helping people was his calling, Jason says simply that it's in his blood. Jason followed in his father's footsteps and became a firefighter nine years ago; his grandfather was a police officer. He's the youngest of four boys (understandably, he calls his mom a saint). He has two brothers that went into the military.
Jason appreciates being called a hero, but said he couldn't do it without the many wonderful volunteers, some of whom go door-to-door to raise money for St. Baldrick's.
His two daughters are also part of the St. Baldrick's event. His 11 year-old helps give out shirts at the events, and his younger daughter, just four years old, attended for the first time this year.
His own children also bring home the import of the St. Baldrick's mission.
"On your worst day, think of these poor defenseless little kids that are battling cancer and their attitudes are better than ours any day," he says.
For Jason, the sick children who always seem to keep a smile on their faces are the real heroes.