Shield 23 Foundation gifts funds to firefighters/paramedics fighting job-related cancers

Russ Constantino loved his job with the Gurnee Fire Department. He was the department's Quartermaster, responsible for the distribution and inventory of all the supplies, materials, and equipment.

It came as a shock to Russ' family that his handling of that gear contributed to the cancer that eventually took his life.

The turnout gear firefighters wear, when heated, gives off carcinogens, which is a contributing cause to cancer. In 2007, Russ developed a brain tumor and fought for more than two years before succumbing to his illness in 2009.

In honor of her husband's fight and the firefighters who rallied around her family during the darkest of times, Shenan Constantino and her children created Shield 23 Foundation Inc.

The foundation gives money to other firefighters who are fighting work-related cancers.

"Firefighters are used to being the rescuers and the helpers - they are not used to being the center of attention or being on the receiving end of a helping hand, and it is often difficult for them to reach out for the help they and their family may need," said Shenan Constantino in an email.

"But our family knows firsthand the stress and anxiety of dealing with cancer, and the financial toll especially. We hope our gifting will ease at least some of that burden. This is our family's way of honoring Russ's memory, and honoring those who helped us at that time, and paying it forward."

Skokie firefighter/paramedic Andy Cutting and his wife, Karla, were beneficiaries of funds from Shield 23 Foundation Inc. Andy passed away in January. courtesy of Shield 23 Foundation Inc.

Karla Cutting and her husband, Andy, are among those who have benefited from the foundation's monetary help. Unfortunately, Andy passed away in January.

"My husband of 25 years, and a firefighter/paramedic on the Skokie Fire Department for nearly that long, was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer in August 2022. He passed in January. I am so eternally grateful to Shield 23 for their support, and will do whatever I can going forward to support this phenomenal charity," Karla Cutting said in an email.

To help raise funds, Shield 23 Foundation Inc. will host the "Fight Smoke, Fire & Cancer" Golf Outing Friday, Aug. 4, in McHenry County. Sponsorships are still available.

The Constantino family is hoping to not only raise funds, but also awareness about cancer-related illnesses in firefighters.

If you can't make the golf outing but would still like to support this cause, make a donation at

Shenan Constantino talks about the foundation and the upcoming golf outing.

Q: What is Shield 23 Foundation Inc.?

A: Shield 23 Foundation Inc. was formed in 2018 in memory of my late husband, Russell S. Constantino, a Waukegan native and 20-year Gurnee firefighter/paramedic, who passed away Nov. 9, 2009, at age 46 after a 2½-year battle with job-related brain cancer.

S23F was named for Russ's badge number. Shield 23 Foundation is a 501(c) (3) that raises funds for and gifts funds to firefighters battling cancer and the families that stand beside them.

Russ Constantino and his family - wife Shenan, son Ryan and daughter Lauren - at a fire department ceremony when he served. Russ was a quartermaster with the Gurnee Fire Department. courtesy of Shield 23 Foundation Inc.

The financial support may be used toward medical costs not covered by insurance, travel and transportation costs related to treatment, loss of income, household bills and expenses, meals, child care, etc. We have a Gifting Committee of dedicated volunteers who review each gift request and makes appropriate gifting recommendations to the S23F board, which issues the final approval.

Our board includes our now-adult children, who both followed in their father's example of service; our son is a firefighter/paramedic in Lake County and our daughter serves as an officer in the Indiana Army National Guard.

Q: How many people do you help each year?

A: As of this writing, in the past four years we have presented 31 giftings, for a total of $89,190.

Shield 23 Foundation held a gifting ceremony for Chicago firefighter/EMT Bob Arens of Truck 9. The foundation, created in honor of Gurnee firefighter/paramedic Russ Constantino, helps firefighters with job-related cancers. courtesy of Shield 23 Foundation Inc.

We currently have a couple of pending gift requests in process and anticipate crossing $100,000 before the end of 2023.

It is very important to show a personal touch, so all giftings are presented in person to the firefighter and their family. It is usually arranged to take place at the gift recipient's fire station so their firefighter brothers and sisters may participate and show their support, but also sometimes at the venue of a fundraiser being thrown on their behalf.

"Our slogan, 'For Love of Family & Brotherhood,' is what is etched on Russ's grave marker. It means that not only is the firefighter gift recipient a member of the fire service family at large and their respective fire department family, but forever more also the Shield 23 Foundation family," Shenan said.

Q: Where do the majority of your funds come from to support your work?

A: We have been incredibly blessed by those who have generously supported our mission over the past five years.

We have received donations from sponsors such as Mission BBQ (Gurnee); from beneficiary events such as fire departments and their unions, who share with S23F a portion of the proceeds from their own fundraising events; other local organizations that have designated S23F as a beneficiary of their events, such as Gurnee Days Car Show; from fundraising events such as socials and raffles; direct donations via our website and our Facebook page; private donors who know or have known a firefighter with cancer; our S23F merchandise (see, and both individual and fire service group memberships.

Q: Tell us about the upcoming "Fight Smoke, Fire & Cancer" Golf Outing.

A: The "Fight Smoke, Fire & Cancer" Golf Outing will be held Friday, Aug. 4, at the Chalet Hills Golf Course, 943 Rawson Bridge Road, Cary, with a 9 a.m. shotgun start.

Lunch, dinner, a Bloody Mary bar, and swag bags are included with the entry fee of $125 per person or $500 per foursome. There will be a 50/50 raffle, raffle baskets, and more.

Register online at Hole sponsors are still being accepted. For more details, visit

Itasca Local 3461, Shield 23 Foundation Inc., and AFFI Honor Guard members huddle to remember firefighter/paramedic Frank Nunez, who passed away from duty-related cancer earlier this year. courtesy of Shield 23 Foundation Inc.

Q: How can readers help your organization?

A: Please contact us via our website,, or our Facebook page if you know of an active duty firefighter battling cancer in Illinois or surrounding states who could benefit from financial support.

• Serve as a liaison for a firefighter battling cancer and complete and submit a gift request, as found at, on behalf of a firefighter battling cancer.

• Donate on the website; become a member, sponsor or donor; and follow us on Facebook.

Q: What else would you like readers to know?

A: According to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, "cancer is the most dangerous threat to firefighter health and safety today."

• "Cancer caused 66% of the career firefighter line-of-duty deaths from 2002 to 2019, according to data from the International Association of Fire Fighters. Heart disease caused 18% of career line-of-duty deaths for the same period."

• "Cancer caused 70% of the line-of-duty deaths for career firefighters in 2016."

• "Firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population," according to research by the CDC/National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety.

• • •

Shield 23 Foundation Inc.

What: "Fight Smoke, Fire & Cancer" Golf Outing

When: Shotgun start at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 4

Where: Chalet Hills Golf Course, 943 Rawson Bridge Road, Cary

Cost: $125 per person or $500 per foursome


Details: Hole sponsorship still available

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