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Local News

Department Rallies to Help Santa Barbara Fire Engineer After Cancer Diagnosis

Proceeds from a poker tournament and barbecue on Sunday will benefit Kevin Corbett and his family as he undergoes treatment

Santa Barbara City Fire Department engineer Kevin Corbett isn't used to being on the receiving end of help.

The 42-year-old firefighter has been working with the department since 2006, and the crux of his job, like that of any first responder, is helping those who need it most.

But in March, the tables turned, when Corbett got a life-changing diagnosis of testicular cancer.

Now, some of his co-workers are rallying behind Corbett and his family to help them pay for expenses they may incur while Corbett is undergoing cancer treatment.

A Texas Hold 'Em Poker Benefit Tournament will be held Sunday at the Carriage and Western Art Museum, 129 Castillo St., with all the proceeds going to Corbett and his family.

A barbecue will begin at noon, and the tournament will start at 2 p.m. The cost is $75 per player, which includes entry, food and drinks. A $25 ticket will buy food and drink only.

Player spots are still available in the tournament, and tickets can be purchased online at www.iaff525.org. Donations can be made there as well.

Corbett talked with Noozhawk on Tuesday afternoon, even as he was being hooked up to a device that would administer chemotherapy into his body.

"The job that I had is one where we respond to people that need help, and to have a complete role reversal where I'm the one in need is beyond humbling," he said over the phone from his hospital room at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura.

Corbett received the cancer diagnosis on March 9 and went into surgery two days later, soon after starting chemotherapy.

In March, Corbett was an inpatient for 21 days receiving chemotherapy.

Santa Barbara fire engineer Kevin Corbett, who is being treated for cancer, was able to take an outing recently with his family. (Corbett Family photo)

It's a four-stage process, and he started the second phase of chemotherapy on Wednesday. That round of treatment will end Saturday, and though Corbett may not feel well enough to attend the poker tournament, he said he would try to Skype in.

Corbett's wife, Lisa, has been posting blog updates about his progress.

The support he's gotten from the firefighting community, family, friends and others "has been overwhelming," he said.

Corbett was an officer with the Santa Barbara Police Department for nine years before joining the Fire Department in 2006, and said support from the larger law enforcement community has been huge as well.

Coincidentally, a week before his diagnosis, Corbett's daughter, Courtney, volunteered to shave her head in support of St. Baldricks, a nonprofit that raises money for childhood cancer research.

"That's just the kind of kid she is," Corbett said.

Since knowing he had cancer himself, "everyone's rallied behind me."

Corbett said that three city firefighters organizing the poker tournament came to his hospital room to ask if he would like to be the recipient of the funds raised this year.

"I was in tears," Corbett recalled.

One of those firefighters was Battalion Chief Mike de Ponce, who has a personal connection to the fund. De Ponce was diagnosed with cancer in 1998 and benefited from the city's fire family fundraising for him.

"I had to be down at UCLA, and the living costs outside of the medical for me added up," he said. "I was in the hospital there for a month, and the fund allowed my family to live within walking distance of the hospital. That's the most time of need I've ever been in," he said.

De Ponce also began to spearhead the fundraising after his recovery.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, "we got inundated with people wanting to donate money," he said.

The department didn't have the proper account or nonprofit paperwork set up, so De Ponce and engineer Matt Wilson worked to establish a fund, wrote up bylaws and set up a nonprofit. The fund supports youth programs as well as firefighters in need.

Two years ago, the department helped support Mike Moses and his family as he underwent treatment.

"It was a really cool community-building event," De Ponce said. "We made quite a bit of money," which went to help Moses with travel and other expenses not covered by medical insurance.

This year, the proceeds will go toward Corbett and his family's needs.

They've already raised money to hire someone to clean Corbett's house, a crucial task since Corbett's immune system is compromised from his treatment.

Corbett's wife's aunt also was flown out from Maryland to watch the couple's three children while the latest round of chemotherapy takes place.

"In the fire service, it's in our nature to help people. That's how we think, and when it hits close to home, it takes it to that next level up," de Ponce said. "It's an emotional thing."

De Ponce encouraged people to come out on Sunday, even if they aren't card players.

At noon, instructional tables will be taking place as people get lunch, and de Ponce said the tournament is usually filled with novice players.

In the meantime, a county away, Corbett is upbeat about his prognosis and treatment. 

"It's just a positive treatment with a positive outlook," he said. "I have no plans other than to get through this."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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