Family, fellow firefighters say goodbye to Gulfport firefighter

Kimberly Kuizon reports

- Family, friends, and fellow firefighters are saying goodbye to a Pinellas County firefighter Tuesday.

Lt. Pete Huffman, a 35-year veteran firefighter most recently with the Gulfport Fire Department, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer last year.

For many whose lives he touched, Huffman was more than a firefighter. he was a teacher and mentor.

"He was very accomplished in his skills... but he never had a large ego over him. He would teach and be patient, and you were just able to learn and do," said Ed Burgess.

Huffman was a longtime friend to Ed Burgess and his wife Diana. The two first met when Ed began working for the Pinellas Park Fire Department. 

"He welcomed me in. Said everything was going to be okay and he was going to make sure I was taken care of," said Ed Burgess.

Tuesday morning, fire trucks and hundreds of first responders from across Pinellas County gathered to remember their lost friend.

Huffman was diagnosed with colon cancer last year and had to leave his job with the Gulfport Fire Department, just 10 months before he was set to retire. He had worked for 35 years as a firefighter and an instructor at the St. Petersburg Fire Academy.

"The Pete that he was. The Huffman strong. He was comforting us. He was comforting us in his time, when he was getting ready to pass on," said Diana Burgess.

Huffman believed his time on the job led to his cancer diagnosis. Before he passed away, Lt. Huffman, his family and friends championed for better protection for firefighters diagnosed with cancer on the job. A bill designed to help is currently moving through the Florida legislature, which Huffman's family hopes will pass.

Firefighters are exposed to cancer-causing toxic materials and carcinogens inside burning buildings. Currently, 34 states offer protection for firefighters diagnosed with cancer on the job, but Florida is not one of them. Huffman tried to change that and now his friends will continue his mission.

"I don't want to come to another one of these funerals for these young guys that have given their all, and have been around all of these toxic chemicals and these carcinogens, and they end up dying young of cancer," said Diana. "We need to step up to the plate and serve our heroes and their families. Pete fought for that, and so for his memory, and mercy, and all the firefighters, we need to do that."

Huffman was named firefighter of the year in 1992 and 1996. He was also an instructor at St. Pete College Fire Academy.

Funeral services were held at the Pinellas Park Performing Arts Center Tuesday. He was laid to rest at Calvary Catholic Cemetery.

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