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Fire Velo: Riding for fallen brothers

Fire Velo supports network that brings cancer awareness and education to firefighters

Posted: July 19, 2009 9:14 p.m.
Updated: July 20, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Friends and family cheer on a group of 13 bike riders who completed the Firefighter Cancer Support Network's six-day ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles County Fire Station 126 in Valencia. The ride was in honor of firefighters Steve Herman and Dallas Jones, who died of cancer last year.

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The emotions of two widows ran high as they watched 13 firefighters flow into Fire Station 126 after a 500-mile-long ride to honor their fallen husbands.

But Lilly Jones' and Laura Herman's husbands weren't killed fighting a catastrophic fire. Rather, Dallas Jones and Steve Herman both lost battles with cancer in 2008.

"It takes your breath away to see his name on their shirts and on their bikes," Herman said. "They tell me the whole way down they were thinking about him."

The group of Los Angeles County firefighters and one Los Angeles city firefighter spent a week on their ride, beginning July 12 in San Francisco and ending Saturday at Station 126 in Santa Clarita.

The men are members of Fire Velo, which rides to promote the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and cancer awareness among firefighters.

They made seven stops along their bike ride to educate firefighters and communities about risks of cancer for firefighters, and the tools that are available to help.

After taking off from San Francisco, the group stopped in Oakland, Half Moon Bay, Watsonvillle, Big Sur, Morro Bay, Lompoc and Ventura. They made their way down McBean Parkway just after noon on Saturday.

"We're pretty high profile; when the firefighters show up, people see us," said Jim Verklit of Murrieta, president of Fire Velo. "The big mission this time was to integrate with the fire departments to get the word out."

One of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network's main goals is to educate firefighters and the community that firefighters have higher rates of cancer diagnoses because of products and combustibles they're commonly exposed to, said President and founder Mike Dubron.

Battalion 6 Chief Buck Buchanan said the pictures of Dallas Jones and Steve Herman taped onto his bike kept him going.

"There were times it was just kind of a long day and I'd just kind of look down (at the pictures) and think, we gotta keep moving," said Buchanan, whose mother died of colon cancer.

Dallas Jones was a member of the Los Angeles County Fire Department for 32 years and served on the Board of Directors for the California Professional Firefighters. He was also selected by former Gov. Gray Davis to serve as director of the Office of Emergency Services.

Jones lost his battle with lung cancer in May 2008. His wife, son, daughter-in law, and two grandchildren welcomed the Fire Velo cyclists to the station Saturday with hugs.

"It just brings back all the memories," said Lilly Jones, who lives in Sacramento. "And we're here with our grandkids and I wonder, ‘Is he looking down and seeing us here?'"

Steve Herman was a 28-year veteran of the county Fire Department who died from pancreatic cancer in December 2008. His wife and two children, from La Verne, attended the cyclists' arrival at Station 126.

"These guys are truly amazing," said daughter Nicole Herman. "It signifies that whole fireman brotherhood - that they're always there for each other."

Dubron said Fire Velo formed following his brief but difficult battle with colorectal cancer in February 2003.

"As firefighters we have this alpha mentality, a feeling of being in control," said Dubron, a longtime Santa Clarita resident.

They can run into burning buildings and rescue people trapped in cars with no fear, he said, but when Dubron received his diagnoses, "I found myself to be in some pretty unfamiliar territory - not being in control," he said.

And that's where Firefighter Cancer Support Network comes in, he said.

When a firefighter has been diagnosed with a certain kind of cancer, a worldwide database puts them in contact with someone else who can help get them through, Dubron said. The network also provides tools for dealing with a diagnoses and education on annual wellness exams and health care.

With education comes an opportunity for early detection, which "saves lives," Dubron said.

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