A Tip of the Hat to our Fellow Brothers and Sisters in Public Safety in Worcester

Bikers seek closure on the road

Marathon memorial journey

Sunday, August 6, 2000

By Shaun Sutner
Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER-- Fire Lt. John Rogers and police Capt. James Nishan are big guys with tough jobs. Both are Vietnam War veterans, and both ride good-size motorcycles. Capt. Nishan favors a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, while Lt. Rogers prefers a Honda Valkyrie.
         Next month, the pair will show they have hearts big enough to match their bikes.
         As the senior members of a motorcycle team of public safety officers, they will embark on a 4,000-mile round-trip to Colorado to honor the six city firefighters who perished in the Dec. 3 Worcester Cold Storage blaze.
         They will leave Sept. 8 and spend six days on the road on the outbound portion of their journey, averaging about 350 miles per leg and sleeping in firehouses along the way. The pace will increase on the four-day return trip. Another 150 or so city firefighters and their families will travel by less rigorous means to Colorado Springs for two days of events at the national Fallen Firefighter Memorial, culminating in an observance on Sept. 16.
         Firefighters Paul A. Brotherton, Timothy P. Jackson, Jeremiah M. Lucey and Joseph T. McGuirk and fire Lts. James F. Lyons and Thomas E. Spencer will be honored -- along with dozens of other American and Canadian firefighters who died in the line of duty last year.
         The riders are raising money for the construction of a memorial in Worcester by selling T-shirts emblazoned with their motto, “A Ride To Remember.”
         But the journey also has a deeper spiritual dimension, imparting a sense of finality to the grieving process, some of the riders said. “The overriding thing, even bigger than the fund-raising, is to make a statement that we miss them and we love them, and we may never get the opportunity to say it again like this,” Lt. Rogers said. The gesture also serves to demonstrate that if there is a fraternity as close as that of firefighters and police, it is the bond of adventurers who love roaring power and gleaming chrome.
         Four of the men who died in the warehouse fire had a passion for the big bikes, Capt. Nishan said, notably Firefighter Jackson and Lt. Lyons, both of whom had ridden their Harleys with other firefighters in recent years. Firefighters Brotherton and Lucey had owned touring bikes over the years.
         Now, as the grieving for the firefighters enters a new phase with the etching of their names on the Colorado monument, their sacrifice will be memorialized on the open road some of them loved so much. “This is our way of remembering them,” Capt. Nishan said.
         Firefighter Michael P. McKeown, who originated the idea of the trip and has done most of the planning, said the memory of their fallen colleagues will motivate the riders as they speed through heat, dust and possibly even snow.
         “The main reason for this is not a love for motorcycles, although obviously we wouldn't ride 4,000 miles without that,” he said. “It's for the men.”
         Also making the trip will be Firefighter Paul D. Cicero, Officer Thomas Bishop and UMass Memorial EMS paramedic Edward Ramstrom. Officer Bishop, a member of the Worcester Police motorcycle division, will ride a police Harley in full police uniform. The uniform, he joked, “will be pretty smelly by the end of it.” Fire Lt. Peter J. Lemieux will join the motorcyclists if he can trade up to a bigger Harley in time for the trip. Otherwise, he will go with Firefighter Timothy Foley in a pickup truck that will accompany the riders.
         The team members range in age from 33 to 55. The motorcycles all are 1450cc to 1500cc machines. Weighing just under 800 pounds apiece, they are among the biggest on the road.
         In a tribute to the six men who died on Dec. 3, all of whom were based at the two locations, the bikes and truck will leave Fire Headquarters at 7:30 a.m. and then pass by the Central Street fire station. Then they will get on the highway. After 174 miles, the first stop will be the Bronx, a borough of New York City; members of a New York firefighters motorcycle club will ride with the Worcester contingent into the city. One of the New York firefighters will join the trip for the rest of the way to Colorado. Up to six other riders, all firefighters, hope to link up in St. Louis and Kansas City.
         The bikers will spend the first night in Philadelphia. Other overnights are earmarked for Wheeling, W. Va., Indianapolis, and Kansas City, Mo. They plan to arrive in Colorado Springs the night of Sept. 13.
         Firefighters in Philadelphia and Kansas City are planning major welcomes, with dinners and tours of their own memorials.
         The riders are using vacation time and paying their own expenses, which could amount to $1,000 each. They are looking for sponsors willing to help defray costs for a night or two in a hotel and a trailer for the pickup truck.
         The men aren't too worried about getting along. “You can't argue when you're on a bike, and we'll be so tired when we stop at night that we'll probably just go to sleep,” Firefighter McKeown said.
         As fund raising continues and final details are worked out, the team members are itching to hop on their bikes and hit the road. “I'm ready to go tomorrow,” said Mr. Ramstrom, the paramedic. “It will all be worth it in the end, once we get there and the names are engraved.”

Worcester Telegram
Sunday, August 6, 2000

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