Randy Piticco worked for 33 years as a firefighter in Surrey, but six years after retiring he died of presumptive lung cancer. He was 61.

"The regret is that when a firefighter works through a long career, you want to see him have a long retirement so he can enjoy the fruits of the work he did with his family," said Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis. "And that was cut short and that's a concern."

Randy Piticco

Surrey firefighter Randy Piticco was remembered by his peers at a line of duty death service on Jan. 24, 2016. (Surrey Firefighters Association)

It's believed Piticco got cancer because of his work as a firefighter and many of the hundreds at his service say his death could have been prevented. They're urging other firefighters to get screened early for the disease.

"We have great equipment. We have self-contained breathing apparatus when we go into the fire and protective equipment that we wear," said Mike McNamara, president of the Surrey Firefighters Association. "But it's impossible to completely protect yourself from the toxins and the smoke gets in in your gear."

Dangers of firefighting

Close to a dozen illnesses — including brain, bladder, colorectal, kidney and lung cancer — are recognized by the province as work-related hazards for firefighters.

Surrey's firefighters' association says there needs to be more awareness about the importance of early screening and hopes the love of Piticco by those who worked with him adds weight to the message.

"Randy was a great all around guy. He was fabulous to work with. He had a great sense of humour," said McNamara. "Everyone on his crew always had a good time. He was very inclusive. He really cared about the men and women he worked with."

with files from Kiran Dhillon