Raleigh Fire Department Lieutenant Brent Upton, who passed away in March 2021 due to cancer, will be honored at the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters memorial event on Saturday, May 7. The foundation will hold a candlelight service on Friday night and a fire truck parade on Saturday morning before the memorial service, which is scheduled to take place at 1 p.m.
The North Carolina Industrial Commission recognized Brent’s passing as a line-of-duty death in October 2021.
Brent, 38, died of occupational cancer two years after a medical retirement. He had served 12 years and left the Raleigh Fire Department following six months of chemotherapy, after receiving a diagnosis of esophageal cancer in May 2018.
He entered the Raleigh Fire Department in September 2006. Brent was promoted to first class firefighter in March 2010, to senior firefighter in March 2013, and to lieutenant in December 2015.
‘I Hope People Will Remember the Wonderful Person He Was’
Brent’s wife, Catherine Upton, is grateful that he is being honored and remembered. “For those who knew him, I hope that when people see Brent's name on that memorial, they will remember the wonderful person he was – his kind and gentle demeanor, his incredible wit and infectious laugh, his amazing zest for life and adventure, and his courage in adversity,” she said.
“And for those who didn't know him, I hope that his name serves as a reminder that more still needs to be done to protect firefighters from the unseen dangers of occupational cancer as well as ensuring that there are benefits in place for those who are fighting and their survivors.”
According to Catherine, Brent loved being a firefighter and helping others. “He was heartbroken when he was told he would never be able to ride a call again,” she said. “And while he always hated discussing his diagnosis and never wanted to be defined by cancer, he wanted to do what he could to help advocate for additional legislation in North Carolina to help future cancer diagnosis in the fire department.”
For Assistant Fire Chief Ian Toms the memorial event will a bittersweet reminder of his friend. “Brent’s quiet and unassuming demeanor brought a sense of calm to Station 8, except for the times we’d sit and watch old horror movies or listen to heavy metal music,” Toms said, smiling. “It was good to share in his company. He was a great fire fighter and mentor to many and is truly missed.”
Brent’s daughter Ella, 6, had a simple answer when asked how she felt about her dad being honored this way. “It makes me sad about Daddy. And I don't want other firefighters to get cancer."