By Chris Scoggins
The loss of a loved is always difficult, especially when that loved one died protecting others. The Texas chapter of the Brotherhood Ride aims to provide emotional and financial support to the families of fallen firefighters and policemen by participating in an annual memorial bike ride and fundraiser. The ride brings warmth and comfort to the families of the fallen and strengthens the already strong bond among this band of brothers.
“It’s really about coming together and feeling like we’re doing something for our fallen brothers and their families,” says Texas Chapter Board Member Eddie Havlice. “Firefighters instinctively want to do something to help; they are active type people. Sometimes after a loss we don’t have something to put our hands on that we can do, so this is a great way to actively engage in remembering these guys.”
The members of the newly minted Texas chapter, which modeled itself after the original Brotherhood Ride organization in Florida, just completed a ride in late May in honor of 19 Texas firefighters who died in the line of duty during 2013. The route was planned so that the riders traveled through the respective hometowns of the fallen near the one-year anniversary of their deaths, biking more than 750 miles in nine days.
Donations raised through the 2014 ride honored the deceased from Dallas, Bryan, West and Houston; the funds will go to the Florida chapter. The Texas chapter is in the process of finalizing status as a 501C non-profit organization. Future fundraising rides by the Texas chapter will support solely families of the fallen in Texas.
“The brotherhood of the fire department is something you really can’t explain,” says Texas Chapter Board Member Jerry Turner. “When you get an opportunity to be able to give back to these guys and the way they sacrificed their lives, you feel good about what you did.”
All riders donate $500 upfront in addition to signing up individual or corporate sponsors to offset the logistical costs and maximize the amount of money that goes back to the families. For many of the riders, the physical struggle of biking more than 700 miles in a just over a week means more than simply donating money. Each rider wears the name of one of the fallen on their jersey to motivate the rider behind them to overcome the long miles.
“It’s a brotherhood; you show the sacrifice you’re willing to make [through riding],” says Tim Dunn, president of the Texas Chapter.
Firefighters are already required to be in top physical conditioning as a part of the job, but the fitness required to ride hundreds of miles creates its own demands.
“There’s a lot of training involved,” Havlice says. “It’s fitness all around but if you’re going to ride your bicycle 800 miles you’ve got to do some training in advance. It takes so much time to do those longer training rides that it’s harder to fit in advance, but we get together as a team and ride as a group periodically.”
In addition to the rides, the organization also offers several fundraising events, dinners and t-shirt sales to support the annual ride. Those interested can make donations at BrotherhoodRide.com. The Texas chapter is currently operating out of the Houston Fire Department. All riders are required to be either active duty or retired firefighters or police officers. Those who don’t meet those qualifications can still participate in the rides by providing logistical support. Dunn was inspired to join the ride after supporting the Florida chapter in 2010 as they came through Houston.
“I got involved through a cooking team when they came through Houston,” Dunn says. “Just being a part of, and seeing that, inspired me to be a part of the organization.”
While the next step for the chapter is to continue to fundraise, above all the riders put a premium on the emotional healing they help provide to the families in addition to the financial support.
“If you walk into a house where a wife lost a husband or the children lost a father, what it tells those people is that we are honoring them and what they did,” Turner says. “What we give them is a fraction of what is paid to the community.”