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Fire chief fights cancer, returns to normal routine

By Staff | Jul 22, 2015

Captiva Island Fire District Chief Rich Dickerson. MEGHAN McCOY

A research paper for an English class about paramedics when they first entered the scene persuaded one gentleman to pursue a career in the field many years ago.

Rich Dickerson, the Captiva Island Fire District chief, applied for the paramedics program at Eastern Kentucky University his sophomore year and was among the first class to go through the newly accredited program.

“I was fortunate to go to a school that was among the first accredited,” he said, which was the second school behind the University of California Los Angeles.

After riding in an ambulances and doing clinical work that included pulling a stretcher in the snow, Dickerson reconsidered staying in Kentucky, where he grew up with his five brothers.

The chief lived on a cattle and tobacco farm in Kentucky. With his dad also working at the post office, he said his brothers helped out on the farm.

Captiva Island Fire District Chief Rich Dickerson and his wife Kim. PHOTO PROVIDED

Dickerson moved to Southwest Florida with Kim, who he married in 1986. Kim, also a paramedic, retired as the chief of EMS two years ago.

He began working for Lee County EMS in 1982, where he remained for five years taking a job with the Sanibel Fire Rescue District in 1987. From 2000 to 2007, he was the chief of the Sanibel Fire Rescue District.

In 2007, he decided to take time off before reentering the field part time a year later. From 2009 to 2010 he served as the chief for the Longboat Key Fire Rescue before returning to the island as the chief of the Captiva Island Fire District in May 2011.

“It’s been a great career,” he said.

During his time as chief, Dickerson played a critical role in the aftermath efforts of Hurricane Charley. He said their job was getting people off the island when an evacuation was issued because they are the last to leave.

Rich Dickerson is surrounded by his family – his daughter Sarah, son James, his wife Kim and daughter Katherine. PHOTO PROVIDED

Dickerson said they had a good hurricane plan in place, which was a goal of his when he took the position. Part of that plan includes 10 zones that first responders search and rescue after a hurricane takes place. He said they set up three zones for search and rescue, which meant firefighters going out on foot directly after the hurricane.

The latest achievement for Dickerson was the completion of the new fire department, which included input from the firefighters. He said he wanted to build a building that would remain beyond his years.

“This station is for the community and firefighters,” he said.

This year the chief was faced with some personal obstacles, which he fought and beat.

On Jan. 1, Dickerson was diagnosed with cancer, which led to an aggressive treatment of chemotherapy and radiation for seven weeks. His received his final treatment in March and returned to work at the end of April.

Captiva Island Fire District Chief Rich Dickerson worked for the Lee County EMS transport helicopter in the mid 1980s. PHOTO PROVIDED

Dickerson said he is thankful for his kids, friends and family for their support during his treatment.

A “normal routine” was what he enjoyed the most about going back to work a few months ago.

Part of that normal routine includes putting some miles in on his bike on the weekends.

Dickerson became a road biker 15 years ago when firefighters of Sanibel began a group to ride together. He said he has kept riding because he enjoys the feeling of getting outside while facing the challenges of cardio.

Before his diagnosis he rode anywhere from 50 to 100 miles a weekend. Dickerson said he’s slowly getting back to those distances as he builds his strength. Right now he averages 30 to 40 miles a weekend at about three miles an hour slower than his average.

Dickerson has three children, his daughters Sarah and Katherine and a son James, all who live in California. He said he and his wife visit them often.

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.