Tonight is the 5th annual Guns N’ Hoses event – a Brave the Shave event where law enforcement officers (guns) and firefighters (hoses) face off to raise money and get their heads shaved to support families dealing with childhood cancer and to help fund pediatric cancer research.
For the past four years, it has been a friendly rivalry, and while it still is, this year one of the brave honorees is one of their own.
Last March, shortly after the Brave the Shave events ended, Levi Gartner, the 1-year-old son of Bismarck firefighter Joe Gartner was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma. “The day we found out, our world just crashed down around us,” Joe says. “My wife and I had been very active with Brave the Shave and other charities, and we couldn’t help but ask, ‘Why us? Why does something like this have to happen to the people who help others?’”
After Levi’s diagnosis, the Gartners spent eight-and-a-half months straight in Minneapolis while Levi underwent treatment. During that time, Joe’s brothers and sisters at the fire department took his shifts so he could be with his family. “If I could make it home to take a shift, I would, but that wasn’t very often,” Joe says. “Without their help, I probably wouldn’t even have a job right now. I will never be able to thank them enough, and I will always be in debt to them for allowing me to be with my son while he was so sick and going through treatment.”
Today, Levi has completed chemotherapy and is currently in his third round of immunotherapy, a treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer. Other than being fed through a feeding tube, Joe says Levi is a spunky, giggly 2-year-old boy who loves life.
Joe will be shaving his head at tonight’s Guns N’ Hoses event just as he has for the past several years, but says this year it means more than it ever has before. “When I first participated in the event five years ago, it was just about raising money to help others,” he says. “Today, it’s much more personal. Seeing my brothers and sisters and my law enforcement family come together to raise money not just for others, but for my son, touches my heart more than it ever has. It means a lot.”