BULLITT COUNTY, Ky. — This Thanksgiving will be especially hard for the Zoneton Fire Protection District, whose chief is in the fight of his life, battling both COVID-19 and cancer.
"It happened so quick," Capt. Steven Corbin with Zoneton Fire said.
It was late September when Chief Rob Orkies told his crew the news.
“He sent out a message and told all the members who could, to come to the fire house, that he had something to say. I don’t think there was one person in that room who thought it would be cancer," said Corbin, who lost his own father to cancer just a month before.
After more than 30 years of battling fires in and around Zoneton, this would prove to be Orkies' most challenging fight. Doctors found the late stage cancer in his neck and lymph nodes.
A week into his treatments, he tested positive for COVID-19 and has been on a ventilator, and sedated since Thursday, Nov. 19.
Just days before, Orkies was determined to come home and be an advocate for the state's mask mandate.
"The last message that Chief wrote back was asking if I’d reach out to the governor for some ‘Mask Up Kentucky’ masks. He wanted one when he got out," Corbin said.
Firefighters created a fundraiser for the Orkies family with t-shirts that read, "In this family, no one fights alone."
"But right now, Chief is alone. That makes it tough," Corbin said.
Visitors aren’t allowed with restrictions put in place during the pandemic.
"Any other time we’d be there with him, with family 24/7 and that’s not the case right now," Corbin said. "There’s a nurse at night that allows him to Facetime with family."
A moment, standing on top of a fire truck outside his window is the closest any family’s gotten since he was admitted.
"He got up and waved at us," Corbin said. "That was the last time we got to see him."
News of his diagnoses has spread across social media, rallying support from fire departments across the country.
"We’ve heard from Illinois to Florida, to Alabama," Corbin said.
"He’s with us. He’s with everybody," Moulton said.
Both Corbin and Moulton said he's been like a dad to many of the guys in their department.
"Chief’s a friend. Chief’s a boss. His heart is bigger than you can explain," Moulton said. "He strived to make Zoneton Fire the best around and he’s still doing that."
"He always wants, and tells you, to put your family first," Corbin said.
Always involved in the community, riding atop a decked out Santa truck is Orkies' favorite run each year. When it hits the streets in December, the lights will shine red and white in his honor.
"This year, it’ll mean so much more for this department," Moulton said.
"Chief, we’re here for you. We’re here for your family, to support you and to keep everything you’ve worked on for the many years moving forward. We’re praying every day for you," Moulton said.
Just this week, the department hosted a prayer group at the station, with the board of trustees, fire crews from Okolona, the department's chaplain, and Orkies' family.
"Keep him in your thoughts and prayers and let’s get him home. Let’s get him home fast," Moulton said.
Check here for updates.
Zoneton firefighter hit the road Thursday night to kick of this year's Santa Fire Truck Christmas tradition. Click here to see the schedule.