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Brotherhood Ride keeps firefighters in mind

By Hugh Fisher
hfisher@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — “We’re not heroes,” Jeff Morse, founder of the Brotherhood Ride, said.
“But we wear the names of heroes on our backs.”
That is, the names of the 411 emergency responders who died on Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
In their honor, and in honor of all fallen emergency services workers, the Brotherhood Ride came to Salisbury on Wednesday afternoon just after 5 p.m.
The 38 cyclists arrived at Fire Station No. 2 on South Main Street to cheers, applause and the rumble of TV news helicopters overhead.
They were flanked by Salisbury Police cars, Cabarrus County Sheriff’s deputies on motorcycles and engines from Locke Fire Department.
Outside the station, a fire department trailer held a length of steel recovered from the World Trade Center.
When riders left Station No. 2 after a brief rest stop, they were led by a truck with that piece of steel.
“I think it’s pretty awesome,” said Jamie Hofmann.
Hofmann, a captain in the Advance Fire Department, drove from his home in Davie County to join locals in welcoming the Brotherhood Ride.
“On 9/11, I’ll be out on an engine,” Hofmann said.
He became a firefighter in 2004. Today, he said, he knows the risks that come with that job.
Wednesday, he came here to thank the riders for their efforts to honor those who risked, and lost, their lives.
Now 13 days out of Naples, Fla., the cyclists are on track to arrive in New York City on Sept. 10.
In addition to the emergency workers who died in New York, the ride honors all those who have died in the line of duty everywhere else in America.
“Our mission is to never forget,” Morse said. “We’re out here to support the families.”
And local emergency responders turned out themselves to support the riders.
Six fire companies escorted them through Kannapolis and into Rowan County.
From Fire Station No. 1 in Kannapolis, city firefighters escorted the riders north to Landis, where that town’s crews took over.
From there, firefighters from China Grove, Bostian Heights and Locke Township continued the relay north into Salisbury.
At the firefighters’ memorial, a ladder truck held the American flag aloft.
After parking their bikes on South Main Street, riders gathered in a circle at the monument.
Fire Chief Bob Parnell thanked them for coming and praised their efforts to honor all those firefighters, police officers and medics who died in the line of duty.
Mayor Susan Kluttz told how citizens pitched in to renovate and expand the memorial after the 9/11 attacks.
And, she said, the city still felt the loss of Victor Isler and Justin Monroe, firefighters who died in the line of duty on March 7, 2008.
Family members of the fallen firefighters gathered to greet the riders.
Tracy Isler, wife of Victor, presented Morse with a crystal cross to remember all the fallen firefighters.
One by one, riders came to greet her and other family members. Afterward, she said they were “very honored and proud.”
Michael Isler, brother of Victor and himself a retired New York Police lieutenant, showed photos of his work on the recovery effort at the World Trade Center.
He said he was honored to see the riders pay tribute to those who died on 9/11 and all those, like his brother, who died in the line of duty.
Locals also donated hundreds of dollars to support the costs of the ride.
Donations were presented by the Salisbury Fire Department Auxiliary from its members, and by the city of Salisbury on behalf of citizens.
District Court Judge Charlie Brown, an avid cyclist, also presented a donation from members of the Windsong racing team.
Brown and other local cyclists met the Brotherhood Ride in Rowan County and rode with them to the ceremony.
Riders said the outpouring of support was touching.
Jerry Sandlin, a firefighter with the North Naples Fire Department, said that, as the ride has gone on, more and more people have turned out to greet them.
He said he’s never been to New York, and has mixed feelings about visiting the World Trade Center site.
“It’s emotional,” he said, both of the upcoming anniversary and the 1,600-mile journey.
Firefighter Bob Branch of Houston, Texas, said he was honored to help remember the fallen.
“We want people to know that their legend and their names will live on forever,” Branch said.
Local firefighters said they were gladdened by the riders’ stop in Salisbury.
Parnell said he was touched by the riders’ spirit and dedication, especially the concern they expressed for the Isler and Monroe families.
“They have big hearts,” Parnell said.
“It’s just an honor that they’re stopping by to spend some time with us,” Salisbury Battalion Chief Terry Smith said.
“I know it’s a tight schedule. It’s an honor for them to be here.”
Salisbury Firefighter Tyler Heilig was just a boy when the 9/11 attacks occurred.
Now, at 21, he understands the risks emergency workers take.
“You think about what those guys did that day,” Heilig said. “No questions asked, the did it.”
He said he was glad for the Brotherhood Ride’s visit to the city. After the ceremony, riders were escorted to Salisbury Elks Lodge 699.
From there, they were bused to the YMCA for showers, then back to the lodge for dinner and rest.
The journey to Salisbury was not without problems.
Three cyclists were involved in an accident on the way into town from Kannapolis, but no injuries were reported.
Another cyclist had a flat tire that further slowed the journey.
And, earlier in the afternoon, a truck pulling a trailer belonging to the Brotherhood Ride’s advance party was involved in an accident at the intersection of South Main Street and Monroe Street.
Occupants of that truck declined treatment, according to radio communications from the scene.
But a passenger in the other vehicle involved was airlifted to Winston-Salem, while another was transported to Rowan Regional.
The riders were informed of the accident just after they arrived at Station No. 2.
“Obviously, our first concern is for anyone who was injured in the accident,” Morse said. As emergency responders themselves, Morse said, the riders knew the seriousness of the situation and their thoughts were with those involved.
The riders were scheduled to depart Salisbury today at 8 a.m. The next leg takes them to Greensboro as they continue the journey north to New York.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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