WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) — Every year, hundreds of people from across Rhode Island visit Westerly for the annual Smokey Bear Parade.
The parade has become a summertime staple, with fire trucks and ambulances from several surrounding communities blasting their horns and flashing their sirens for cheering crowds.
But one of those trucks is not like the others.
Instead of battling flames, this bright gold fire truck is dedicated to battling pediatric cancer.
The truck’s owner, Sandi Pulchalski, is a cancer survivor herself.
“As a grown up with cancer, it’s hard to imagine when you meet children … like, how do they do it?” she said.
It was a child she met 10 years ago that inspired it all.
Even though Brennan Daigle was battling cancer 1,500 miles away in Louisiana, Pulchalski caught wind of his story and became one of his 40,000 Facebook fans.
Pulchalski eventually reached out to Daigle and his family and a relationship bloomed. The connection eventually inspired Daigle to dedicate a fire truck to Pulchalski, which was painted pink to symbolize her battle with breast cancer.
“When that happened, I knew I was going to pay it forward,” she recalled.
That’s how Colors for a Cause Rhode Island was born. Pulchalski purchased her own fire truck and had it painted gold to represent pediatric cancer.
But that’s not all.
The truck is also covered in ribbons that represent other forms of cancer. Pulchalski has since dedicated her truck to Ray, a fellow cancer survivor, Colors for a Cause volunteer and Charlestown firefighter.
He passed away earlier this year.
Pulchalski said Dorian Murray was the first pediatric cancer patient to ride in her fire truck, back when his “DStrong” movement first went global.
Since his ride, Colors for a Cause has impacted countless other through fundraisers, spreading awareness and individual patient support.
Pulchalski said the truck is a reminder to those battling cancer that they’re not alone, with hundreds of messages written on the sides of the apparatus.
“We meet children all the time, we meet parents all the time and we meet people at every event no matter where we go,” she said. “They write down a loved one’s name, or maybe they’re still fighting or maybe they’ve passed away. It doesn’t matter. Whatever they want to write, we let them write.”
Pulchalski said Daigle passed away in May 2011, but she still feels like he’s always with her.
“He is our hero,” she said, “This is his legacy.”