First responders ride bikes to raise money for firefighters with cancer

Their 500-mile journey is part of an ongoing effort to raise money for firefighters and their family members who have been afflicted with cancer

By Austin Ramsey

OWENSBORO, Ky. — A group of about 20 firefighters, medics and support staff with the Chicago Fire Department marked just about the halfway point in Owensboro on Wednesday on a weeklong bicycle journey from the Windy City to Nashville.

The cyclists and their handlers rode across the Glover H. Cary Bridge shortly after 2 p.m., escorted by an Owensboro Police Department cruiser and local fire department personnel. Their 500-mile journey is part of an ongoing effort to raise money for firefighters and their family members who have been afflicted with cancer.

The charity, dubbed Ignite the Spirit, has taken firefighters on journeys like this one for eight years. Organizer and Tower Ladder No. 21 firefighter Rich Pinskey, who has 30 years of firefighting experience under his belt, has helped oversee the charity since its beginning, when it aimed to aid those local firefighters and their families who were facing financial crises. Last year, partnered with another charity, the organization was able to raise $150,000 with the ride.

On its own, ITS has set a goal for about $40,000 through a variety of fundraising means, including ride sponsors, raffles, charities and the website,, he said. It's a tall task, but it can mean a huge difference for a family facing a daunting diagnosis.

"We've probably already helped 20 of our guys who had been diagnosed with cancer with this charity," Pinskey said. "All of us know somebody who has had to fight that battle, and it can be heartbreaking for a firefighter who risks his life for others."

Few know that pain better than Lt. Pat Reardon with Chicago's Engine Co. 56. Reardon's daughter Kayla was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 10. It was ITS—Reardon's firefighting brothers and sisters—who heeded the call to help his family in their time of need, and now the lieutenant is proud to say his 19-year-old daughter is completely cancer-free.

"We were one of the first charity recipients," he said. "It was really special. That's why I want to continue to give back."

Ignite the Spirit was partially born from the deep scars the terror of Sept. 11, 2001, left among the firefighting community. Pinskey said many of CFD personnel made their way to New York after the Twin Towers fell. When they returned, he said, they brought back with them a spirit of unity among first responders that was unparallelled to anything he or his colleagues had ever experienced.

It was firefighters helping firefighters, he said.

Anthony Snyder, a paramedic in charge with Chicago's Ambulance Co. No. 1, has had that very notion on his mind since he set off on his bicycle four days ago.

"For our whole careers, we train to avoid bad situations," he said. "There are so many close calls and almost gotchas and the what-ifs, but, equipped with our training and hard work, we always seem to make it back from that fire or EMS run. But for many of us, later in our careers, we get struck with cancer. It's something you never really see coming, and there's no training or preparation to stop it... This charity is a way that we can really help those guys who have cancer to fight this battle and hopefully get back to work."

Owensboro Fire Chief Steve Mitchell heard from ITS about two weeks ago. Local responders, he said, were happy to jump at the chance to help fellow firefighters accomplish a big goal for a good cause. Owensboro Fire Station 1 hosted the 19 or so CFD personnel for dinner Wednesday evening and planned to escort them back out of town early in the morning of Thursday, Sept. 28.


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