Lenexa firefighters shave heads in solidarity with colleague battling cancer

Leah Wankum - December 6, 2018 11:16 am
Lenexa Fire Department
Several Lenexa Fire Department staff members shaved their heads and raised funds Nov. 30 in support of Lt. Michael Wells, who has stage 4 esophageal cancer. Photo courtesy of Lenexa Fire Department

Lenexa firefighters have shaved their heads and raised thousands of dollars for Lt. Michael Wells, a fellow firefighter who is deep in a battle against cancer.

Wells was diagnosed in October with stage 4 esophageal cancer, which has metastasized from a tumor in his esophagus to his lymph nodes and liver.

Last week, about two-thirds of the 90 staff in the Lenexa Fire Department — including one female firefighter — decided to shave their heads and start fundraising for Wells in a day-long, department-wide haircut Nov. 30. Deputy fire chief Travis Vaughn said they ended up raising about $13,000 for Wells’s treatment.

“We’ve really worked to support him and his family,” Vaughn said of Wells’s wife, Katie, and their three young children.

Vaughn said the head-shaving idea came from Glen Smoke, a Lenexa firefighter-paramedic.

“He said he was thinking about getting a haircut and thought — knowing that Lt. Mike Wells who is sick, may very well lose his hair with the chemo — what better way than to try and create a little fun event where we pledge to shave each other’s heads?” Vaughn said.

Hairdressers Jillian Harris and AJ Edwards volunteered the day to do all of the nonstop hair cutting. Some non-fire department staff joined the firefighters, as well as a few fire department retirees. (Disclaimer: Vaughn said some of Lenexa’s firefighters are already bald, so their haircuts didn’t count.)

Several people in Wells’s circle are also rallying around the Wells family, including those from the family’s church and people he has met during his home brewing ventures. Many of them have started their own fundraising events.

One such event will take place from 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at St. Therese Catholic Church, 7207 NW Highway 9, Kansas City, MO 64152.

Vaughn said 520 tickets have already been sold for the Saturday fundraiser. Several items autographed by Chiefs football players as well as tickets for Royals and Chiefs games will be up for auction. The fundraiser, “Choose the Wrench,” is named after Wells’s motto for his campaign, which is inspired by a scene from the movie “Good Will Hunting.”

“Mike’s motto for this, that he’s going to battle hard and take all the wrench you can give to him,” Vaughn said.

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