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Alex Cabrero, Deseret News
Community members and firefighters gather for a breakfast fundraiser benefiting retired Pleasant Grove Fire Lt. Merrill Haas, who recently learned he has cancer, on Saturday, June 15, 2019.

PLEASANT GROVE — A line of people stretched out the door and around the new Pleasant Grove Fire Station 71 on Saturday morning for the department's annual pancake breakfast, but the crowd came for more than just a meal.

They gathered at the station at 71 E. 200 South to help one of the department's own, a man who had dedicated himself to serving them.

Seeing all the people who showed up sure impressed Merrill Haas.

Ray Boone, Deseret News
Pancakes are cooked during a breakfast fundraiser benefiting retired Pleasant Grove Fire Lt. Merrill Haas, who recently learned he has cancer, on Saturday, June 15, 2019.

"Pretty overwhelming,” he said. "They always have had a good turnout. This is just exceptional."

Even more so, because he couldn't believe most of them were here for him.

"It's, it makes a guy cry. A guy doesn't like to cry,” said Haas as his voice started to shake.

Haas recently found out he has cancer.

He was diagnosed just a few months after retiring from the Pleasant Grove Fire Department after a more than 20 year career.

"I didn't know I was sick when I retired. I just knew I didn't feel good,” he said.

Kidney cancer spreading to his lungs, it's the kind of news even the bravest firefighter isn't quite sure how to handle.

“Ride the wave until it crashes and find a new one,” said Haas. "I have faith in my doctor. He's a smart man.”

He lost count of how many people said hello to him during the breakfast and wanted to shake his hand.

“All that’s left of me is my beard now,” he said with a laugh when some people commented on how different he now looks.

Alex Cabrero, Deseret News
Community members and firefighters gather for a breakfast fundraiser benefiting retired Pleasant Grove Fire Lt. Merrill Haas, who recently learned he has cancer, on Saturday, June 15, 2019.

He knew he had friends in the Pleasant Grove community. He just didn’t know how many people cared about him.

When his fellow firefighters decided money from this year’s pancake breakfast would go to help Haas with his medical bills, word spread like wildfire.

“The firefighters, the community, Haas, it’s all awesome. Everything is cool,” said Greg Lloyd, a friend of Haas who also waited in line for breakfast Saturday.

The department expected 2,000 people at the pancake breakfast. Instead, close to 4,000 showed up.

One person had to go back to the grocery store twice for supplies.

Ray Boone, Deseret News
Retired Pleasant Grove firefighter Merrill Haas has breakfast with his family at the department's annual pancake breakfast on Saturday, June 15, 2019. The funds from the breakfast will be donated to Haas, who learned after retiring that he has cancer.

"I've never seen it like this. This is, it's busy. It's awesome,” said Pleasant Grove Fire Lt. Kyle Hardy as he served another stack of pancakes.

He was anxious to make sure everyone who came through the line left with a full plate.

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“How are you doing today? You want one or two? They’re really good,” he encouraged one diner.

It’s all for a man who has spent his career rushing to emergencies, only to now have others coming to his emergency.

"If I could figure out who everybody was, I would go to their house and hug them. It's just overwhelming. It's surprising how many people in the community care and know who I am,” said Haas with tears in his eyes. “I’m still in the middle of the battle, so I hope we’re winning.”