ITHACA, N.Y. — More than 300 firefighters, friends and family from across the region gathered Wednesday at Boynton Middle School to honor Daryl Pace, who served as a member of the Ithaca Fire Department for a decade. Pace, 36, died earlier this month after she was diagnosed with cancer related to her job.
During his eulogy, retired Ithaca Fire Chief Brian Wilbur remembered meeting Pace during her job interview and thinking, at first, that she was quiet and a little nervous. When he asked her, “Why do you want to be a firefighter?” he remembers her demeanor changing in a flash. “She said, ‘Well that’s a dumb question, why wouldn’t you want to be a firefighter?’”
Wilbur recounted Pace’s deep commitment to her work and community, as well as her willingness to speak her mind and take on challenges with courage. Reading from statements submitted by Pace’s colleagues at the IFD, Wilbur said, “She took action when she believed in something, she was shy, but she spoke up.” Another colleague’s comment read, “Firefighter Pace was one of the bravest on and off the job, and she fought through battles that most will never have to endure.”
Pace was remembered throughout the ceremony as an energetic person who lived life to the fullest. She loved the outdoors and, according to a former hockey teammate, “was the hardest working and fastest skater on the ice.” A sea of red interrupted the rows of uniformed personnel in the auditorium, as Pace’s Ithaca Sirens teammates donned their jerseys in her honor.
Those close to Pace also spoke to her appreciation for the Cancer Resource Center, where she participated in a young adult support group. As first responders to fires and other emergencies, firefighters face many risks associated with their line of work. In addition to being susceptible to physical injuries on the job, it is also well-documented that firefighters face an increased risk of cancer compared to the general population.
In 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted a large study of 30,000 firefighters from three large cities. They found the firefighters had higher rates of several types of cancer than the population as a whole, and faced a 9% higher rate of cancer diagnoses and a 14% higher rate of cancer-related deaths. As the study notes, firefighters are exposed to contaminants from fires including combustion by-products like benzene and formaldehyde, and asbestos from older structures.
In an interview posted by the Cancer Resource Center in April 2018, Pace said she was aware of firefighters’ heightened risk of cancer but that her diagnosis at the age of 34 came as a shock. She urged others to pay attention to signs that something is wrong with their health and to get any concerning symptoms checked by a doctor. “Go get it checked out. Don’t ignore it. That little voice that says, ‘This doesn’t seem right’ — go get it looked at… be your own advocate.”
Wilbur echoed Pace’s advice, telling the room of fire service personnel, “Don’t mess with cancer. It is insidious and relentless.”
Local representatives including Mayor Svante Myrick, Senator Tom O’Mara and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton were present to recognize Pace’s service to the community. “She was really good at her job,” Myrick said, “she was competitive, she was driven, she was brilliant, she was passionate.”
Members of IFD and the Ithaca Professional Firefighters Association presented Pace’s helmet and badges to her family, and leaders from the New York State Professional Firefighters Association awarded Pace a medal of honor, the Martin E. Pierce Commemorative Line of Duty Death Medal.
A bell tolled to call Pace home, and bagpipes filled the room as the Edward P. Maloney Memorial Pipe Band closed the ceremony with “Amazing Grace” and a Celtic march.
Pastor Nick Dunn, who baptized Pace last spring, offered a prayer. “If I had to describe Daryl, she was genuine, she was kind, she was joy-filled, she was at peace, she lived life to the fullest, she had compassion for others, she knew where she was going, where there are no more tears and no more pain.”
Local and regional emergency departments were well represented, including members of the Apalachin, Aurora, Batavia, Cayuga Heights, Corning, Dryden, Enfield, Groton, Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, Johnson City, Lansing, North Greece, Trumansburg and the Ridge Road Fire Departments, as well as Bangs Ambulance, Cornell Campus Police, Ithaca College Police, the Ithaca Police Department, New York State EMS and the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response.
Photos by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice