Soaked to the bone in sweat, and tired from a long ride, members of the Brotherhood Ride exchanged high-fives as they parked their bikes for the night at the Cullman Elks Lodge on Thursday.
Completing 550 miles, riders still have 150 to go.
Despite rain, hot temperatures, and tough hilly terrain along the way, nothing was going to stop the group of 30 firefighters, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical personnel from around the country honoring those who have died in the line of duty within the past year.
"The one thing we've always said about this ride is we want to bring awareness to the guys who have died in the line of duty," founder Jeff Morse said. "Not to us. We're not the heroes."
The ride began in 2007 when a group of North Naples, Fla. firefighters wanted to honor nine members of the Charleston, SC Fire Department who perished in the line of duty on June 18,2007 while fighting a warehouse fire. According to Morse, their desire to help the families of the brave professionals resulted in the creation of the Brotherhood Ride.
"We wanted to show the families a year later that we hadn't forgotten the sacrifices of those guys," Morse said. "I don't know how many times as firefighters or police officers we go to funerals and say never forget, but then move on to something else and the families are left behind. Again, we want to show them that we haven't forgotten."
The 2013 ride is dedicated to five police officers and one firefighter from Florida, a police officer from Virginia, and a fire chief from Tennessee. Each year, over the course of the journey, the group honors an unsung hero, or heroes from around the country by riding bicycles from Florida to the hero's hometown. This year's ride began last Friday in Brooksville, Fla., and is expected to end this afternoon in Decaturville, Tenn. in honor of Kenny D. Fox, former Fire Chief of the Decaturville Fire Department who died while on call at a structure fire. Along the way, in addition to Cullman, they also made stops in Dothan, Montgomery, Calera and Florence. Thursday's ride was in honor of detective David White of the Clay County Sheriff's Office in Florida who was fatally shot while on call to do a raid at a suspected drug house, as well as a member of Calera's Fire Department.
"Unbeknown to us where we stayed last night, we found out Calera had lost someone in 2005," Morse said. "The guys on this team know my feelings about that. Anytime we know there's a line of duty death in any of the neighboring towns we're going through we always honor them as well. So, this morning, we dedicated the day to him and detective White and asked them for safe keeping, and at the end of the day we put them to rest."
Paul Manguso has been participating in the event the past four years, and despite not being able to ride his bike this year due to an injury, missing out wasn't an option, especially since it carried a bit more of a special meaning for him. Manguso's father, Chris Manguso, was one of the eight the group was honoring. Chris was an engineer with the Broward Sheriff's Office Fire Rescue in Florida. He passed away in June of 2012 from job related cancer after 33 years of service.
"It's even more meaningful — very bittersweet," Paul said. "It's an amazing thing for these strangers to put down their families, their jobs, for somebody they've never met before for the simple fact they were a fellow brother."
Other than the cost of conducting the rides, all donated proceeds go directly to the beneficiaries designated.
Ashley Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 225, or by email at email@example.com.