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Responders begin 600-mile ‘Brotherhood Ride’ to honor fallen colleagues

The annual tribute began by reading the names of 531 firefighters, paramedics and police officers the group has honored in 10 years

By Thaddeus Mast
Naples Daily News

NAPLES, Fla. — Two dozen black-and-white police motorcycles sat, engines revving, lights flashing. Behind them, 22 first responders donned helmets and prepared for the first leg of a 600-mile journey to honor their fallen colleagues.

Members of this year’s Brotherhood Ride gathered their bikes Sunday outside the North Collier Fire and Rescue District Station 45. A small ceremony started the trip, first by reading the names of 531 firefighters, police officers and paramedics the tight-knit group has honored in 10 years.

The weeklong ride will loop around the state, ending in Miami. The riders will stop in many stations along the way, meeting families of fallen brothers and sisters.

“Today begins a seven-day trek around Florida to honor 20 fallen heroes—20 fallen heroes who will not be going back to their families,” Brotherhood Ride co-founder Candy Morse said.

The names of 20 responders adorn the back of every shirt. Lt. Scott Wilson, of the Greater Naples Fire and Rescue District, has been on 10 rides since the group’s inception.

“It’s a tough ride,” he said. “We’ll take 100 miles today in this heat, but it doesn’t really matter. If you start struggling, you look up and see the shirt of the guy in front of you and those names, and you go. That’s it.”

Brotherhood Ride co-founder Jeff Morse explained the idea stemmed from a single fire call a decade ago.

“This ride was started June 18, 2007,” he said. “Our first ride was a year after that when we honored the Charleston Nine.”

Morse referred to a fire in Charleston, South Carolina. Firefighters were dispatched to a furniture store blaze that quickly grew out of control. After rescuing a trapped employee, nine firefighters were killed as the building collapsed.

At the time it was the single worst firefighter tragedy since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“A small group of us met the next day after the Charleston Nine had perished, and we wanted to come up with some way of honoring those who have gone before us,” Morse said. “It started the Brotherhood Ride right there.”

Riders jumped on their bikes and went up to South Carolina, meeting the nine firefighters’ families and honoring their memories. They thought their mission was done, Morse explained.

“It wasn’t even a month later when we heard about Andy Widman down in Fort Myers Police Department,” he said. “Being so close, the Police Department actually reached out to us and asked if we could honor him the next year.”

Widman was shot and killed responding to a domestic disturbance call in downtown Fort Myers on July 18, 2008.

Every year since, the Brotherhood Ride has honored fallen first responders on long rides, meeting families and raising funds.

“With the support of you people and our sponsors, we’ve been able to hand-deliver, in the past 10 years, $379,000 to these families,” Morse said.

The trips are more than a simple fundraising campaign, Wilson explained.

“When you walk into a station and you see (a fallen hero’s) family, you get goosebumps talking to them and how much they appreciate you,” he said. “At first they don’t understand why we do it. It’s an honor. I know that if anything happened to me, these guys would be here for my wife and kids.”

Copyright 2017 Naples Daily News