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Residents pack firehouse to help beloved firefighter

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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Rick Newton at a fundraiser at the East Chatham Fire Company to help pay for his treatment for stage IV lung cancer.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Residents pack the East Chatham Fire Company to help raise money for Newton’s cancer treatment.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Volunteers staff a table giving out raffle tickets and accepting donations on behalf of East Chatham Fire Company volunteer firefighter Rick Newton.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Residents waiting in line to attend the fundraiser Sunday.
April 16, 2018 12:15 am

EAST CHATHAM — Residents gathered at the East Chatham firehouse Sunday to raise money for Rick Newton, a contractor and volunteer firefighter who is being treated for stage IV lung cancer.

Newton was diagnosed in February and a GoFundMe page, created to help pay for his treatment, had raised $16,000 as of Sunday, event organizer Susie Cayler said. Cayler, whose husband is the cousin of Newton’s wife Irene, recently organized an online auction that raised over $4,000.

“I would say I’ll be happy to make $10,000 here tonight, but I know the support’s just going to keep coming for him,” Cayler said.

In the first hour of the fundraiser, the firehouse was filled to capacity, Cayler said.

“We’re waiting for people to finish eating and leave so we can get more people in,” she said. “We’re trying to keep people from getting cold.”

Newton, who sat in a section of the firehouse dubbed “Rick’s Corner,” was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, he said.

“We’re getting these donations and stuff from people I’ve never met,” he said. “It’s absolutely great.”

Newton’s wife created a page for him on CaringBridge, a website dedicated to sharing updates on people’s medical conditions, he said. Newton is receiving immunotherapy and radiation therapy at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany.

“I’m lucky I came into this thing feeling healthy,” he said. “Being a construction guy’s very physically active.”

For anyone facing a similar situation, he recommends staying as positive as possible. He learned this technique early on in his treatment.

“I think it helps,” Newton said. “If you start feeling defeated, or you start feeling like ‘I don’t feel like getting up and moving anymore,’ anything like that, you’re just going to start going backwards.”

Four hundred meals were prepared for Sunday’s event, according to Cayler.

“I’m not sure if we’re going to sell out, but it sure looks like that,” she said.

Many people in attendance did not known Newton, but admire him for being a volunteer firefighter in East Chatham, Cayler said. A community walk in Newton’s honor was held Saturday in East Chatham.

“There’s been over 700 donations to his GoFundMe account. If that doesn’t tell you that his reach is far and wide, I’m not sure what else would,” Cayler said. “He just reaches so many people.”

Scott Lent, of Chatham, has known Newton and his family for about 17 years. Lent’s mother used to baby-sit Newton’s now 17-year-old daughter Madison.

“I’ve seen all three of their children grow up,” Lent said. “I got to know Rick and Irene over the years, too.”

Newton has a great reputation as a contractor, and he and his family are amazing, Lent said.

“They’re just a wonderful family,” according to Lent. “It’s a shame what’s happening and it’s nice to see so many people coming out to support the family.”

Lent, a member of Columbia County American Bikers Aimed Towards Education, asked his fellow members, many of whom don’t know Newton, to attend.

“Those who said, ‘I’ll be there,’ are here,” he said. “We got as much support as we could possibly get. As you can see, this place is packed.”

Stephanie Tanaka, who has a home in Canaan, heard about Newton’s story through a family friend and subsequently saw it online. She has not met Newton, but wanted to show support.

“We’re just community members who feel it’s [the fundraiser] a great thing to support,” Tanaka said. “We want to wish him well.”

Cecilia Stevens, of Nassau, has known the Newton family for about a year and was amazed by the turnout, she said. A large turnout for Newton isn’t unusual as many people are looking to support him, she noted.

“He’s an absolutely wonderful person,” Stevens said. “He would give you the shirt off his back.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.