Avid biker Jim Carroll loves the sense of community that comes with his job as a firefighter at Charlotte Fire Department’s Station 32 in Ballantyne.
It’s a community that shares in strength, respect and admiration for fire and police departments across the state and the reason Carroll bikes through the North Carolina high country, honoring the fallen.
Carroll is part of the Carolina Brotherhood, a group of firefighters and police officers from the Carolinas who participate in an annual cycling event. The group of 52 participants, both riders and support staff, ride in the name of fallen firefighters or police officers who died in the line of duty, raising funds and support for the families along the way.
“It’s a coming together of all of us for one goal. It’s the terrain and the temperature – we almost want to suffer. We want those miles to be long and hard so it makes us think of why we are riding and who we are riding for,” Carroll said.
This will be the second year for the Carolina Brotherhood ride, last year biking 400 miles in honor of Asheville Fire Capt. Jeff Bowman. This year, the group will ride 700 miles starting Aug. 10 in Rocky Mount and ending in Boone on Aug. 17 in honor of six police officers who died in the line of duty last year – Trooper Bobby Gene Demuth Jr., N.C. Highway Patrol; Master Officer Jeremiah M. Goodson Jr., Lumberton Police Department; Deputy Sheriff Dewayne Charles Hester, Bladen County Sheriff’s Office; Deputy Sheriff William Mast Jr., Watauga County Sheriff’s Office; Master Cpl. Sandra E. “Sandy” Rogers, Aiken Department of Public Safety, S.C.; and Detective Randall “Shane” Thomas, Henderson County Sheriff’s Office.
The Carolina Brotherhood was founded by two south Charlotte firefighters, Chris Tackson of Station 19 and Jim Squittieri of Station 3, who wanted to honor Asheville’s Jeff Bowman.
“We wanted to do something to help support the family of Jeff,” Tackson said. “Jim and I are avid riders. We thought we could cycle across North and South Carolina and raise money.” Tackson said last year’s first annual event raised nearly $30,000 for Bowman’s family through sponsorships, donations and T-shirt sales. The group has raised more than $20,000 for this year’s cause so far, with significant donations still coming in, Bowman said. He expects funds to come in even after the ride is over.
This year’s ride, which will make overnight stops in Rocky Mount, Elizabethtown, Aiken, Henderson County and Watauga County, will include riders and support staff not only from Charlotte, but from departments in Salisbury, Gastonia, Asheville, Columbia, S.C., Charleston, S.C., Wilmington and one rider from Florida.
The ride will average 100 miles a day and will end with a 6,000-foot elevation climb into Boone.
“Once we get into western North Carolina in the mountains, it will be quite the challenge. That’s going to be physically the hardest part, but it will make it easier because of the reception of people from that part of the state. It will definitely be a big catalyst for us,” Tackson said.
The ride will visit the hometowns of the police officers the group is honoring. Tackson said he hopes the ride becomes a yearly tradition to keep the names of those who have fallen on everyone’s minds.
“Unfortunately, there is always going to be line-of-duty deaths. We just want to always honor these fallen heroes,” Tackson said. “We don’t want them to be forgotten.”
To donate to the cause, buy a T-shirt or meet the riders, visit the group’s website at www.carolinabrotherhood.com.