16-year-old hoping to start foundation for KC firefighters in late father’s memory

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A metro teenager wants to help keep firefighters safe. The subject hits close to home, so she's starting a foundation to do just that.

Studies show the toxins firefighters are exposed to can lead to cancer.

Colleen Byrne lost her dad last year. He was a firefighter for 30 years, and his family believes it was those dangerous toxins that killed him at the age of 51.

“Ever since my dad died, I have just really felt like I want to help the fire department and do something in his honor,” the 16-year-old said.

She heard about the 2018 Chipstarter contest — run by Chip Gaines, an HGTV star— aiming to help people accomplish their goals.

Byrne submitted her video this week after filming with the crews at KC Fire Department's Station 35 about the Byrne Out Cancer Foundation.
Her goal?

Colleen Byrne

“Raise money to help buy extractors for fire departments that don’t have them because there are not as many as there should be. And for fire departments that don’t have a second set of gear to wear when their second set is being washed,” Byrne said.

Her dad, Tom Byrne, died February 11, 2017.

“He had Neuro-endocrine Carcinoma, which is a very rare cancer that starts in the lung and then basically spreads throughout his entire body,” Byrne said.

She’s trying to start this foundation in memory of her dad -- but also to help other firefighters and their families.

“I don’t want other people to go through what me and my mom and my family had to go through,” Byrne said. “It’s more about them and helping them because nobody else should have to go through this.”

“He was always educating the firefighters about the safest way to do the things they have to do on the job. And when he was diagnosed, he even went and did a video so firefighters would know, 'We’ve got to take care of ourselves. This is what we’re being exposed to.' And so for her to carry on that education in his name is just amazing,” said Colleen’s mom, Stacy Bryne.

Right now, only about a third of all Kansas City fire houses have machines, called extractors, designed to limit exposure. They are essentially commercial grade washing machines that help clear off chemical residues.

Colleen Byrne and her dad with family

“Some guys do have two sets of gear. Not all fire departments do. Smaller fire departments might have one set of gear, and it might be their gear for 30 years because it’s so expensive,” said Capt. Carl Molle, with KCFD Pumper 35.

He worked with Tom Byrne for years before he died.

Colleen is hoping to win the contest to raise enough money to get this foundation off the ground -- and hopes her father would be proud.

“She’s gonna pick up where he left off,” a teary-eyed Molle said.

“I think he would think it’s great that someone is doing something about it to help others because his entire life he would do anything he could to help anybody,” the 16-year-old said.

Byrne said she will find out if she won on Sept. 17. She said the community support has been amazing and hopes the foundation will take off regardless.