Participants in the "Tour of Duty" charity bicycle ride finished the first stage of their cross-country journey Sunday evening with a hot shower and dinner at the Beverly Hills Fire Department headquarters.
"It's a privilege and honor for us to have the Tour of Duty consider us to be the first stop as they continue across the country," BHFD Fire Chief Tim Scranton said.
Twenty-four riders made up of American and Australian firefighting, police and military personnel are completing the 29-day, 2,600-mile Tour of Duty ride in honor of both nations' armed forces and first responders. Each country has 12 participants: four representing firefighters, four representing police and four representing the military.
The event started at the USS Midway in San Diego on Aug. 12 and will finish Sept. 10 in New York City at the USS Intrepid. The ride is raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project and the New York Police and Fire Widows' and Children's Benefit Fund.
"Knowing what the event was standing for and the charities that we're raising money for, I said 'Yes' without even thinking about it," said Betsy Cionca, a firefighter with the Peoria Fire Department in Arizona. "I am honored and humbled to be a part of the team."
Tour of Duty event director Paul Ritchie is a firefighter with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in Melbourne, Australia. He came to America two years ago to run in the Tour of Duty race, a cross-country relay that took place to honor victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It was our opportunity in 2010 to commemorate 9/11—as firefighters—to remember the people who were taken. We came over here and together we ran with our American colleagues. It was a great success," Ritchie said. "What we wanted to do was come back now and acknowledge the military for all the great work they do."
When asked why the event was a bike race rather than a run this time around, Ritchie said it was "just a different way to do it."
Event organizer Jon Sculley, another firefighter with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade who joined the Tour of Duty run two years ago, said camaraderie is what inspires him and others to come here to raise funds for charity.
"There's a huge alliance between our two countries," Sculley said. "That's why we decided to come to America."
After dinner the Tour of Duty team visited the city's , which features a from the Twin Towers. New York City Fire Department firefighter Liam Flaherty, who also ran with the Tour of Duty two years ago, said his company lost nine members on Sept. 11, 2001.
"When we were in New York on 9/11, I only thought about the five boroughs of New York. I really didn't realize how it affected the rest of the world," he said. "When you come 3,000 miles away and see a piece of steel that we were walking on 11 years ago and how they take it to heart here, and how much they care about what happened back in New York, you're speechless."
Brad Burlingame, president and CEO of the Marketing and Visitors Bureau in nearby West Hollywood, is the brother of the American Airlines pilot whose plane was taken over by hijackers and flown into the Pentagon on 9/11. Burlingame came out to thank the Tour of Duty riders for their charity efforts.
"I'm always grateful because people like this—these men and women who are firefighters and representatives of the military and other first responders—they still care very much about this," he said. "This is not about mourning for the loss of that day. It's remembering what we learned from that day. For me, it's profoundly appreciating what these types of people do to protect us every single day—here in America and around the world."
The riders wrapped up their evening with a night's rest at the Ramada Plaza in West Hollywood courtesy of Melbourne native Alan Johnson, who runs the hotel.
To help the Tour of Duty raise funds, text "RIDE" to 41444 or contribute here.
To support the team by purchasing a commemorative Tour of Duty coin, go here.