To Laddie Williams, firefighters are family. So on Sept. 11, the three-year veteran of the Richmond County Fire Department began to pedal into a heavy wind near Palm Springs, Calif., beginning a 2,700-mile, cross-country bicycle trek.
He hopes to raise money for the families of nine firefighters who perished in June's Charleston warehouse fire.
It was the nation's largest single loss of firefighters since the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attack.
During a telephone interview last week, Mr. Williams said he was driving across the New Mexico desert on his way to Albuquerque. His partner on the trip, Scott Rousseau, an Augusta mechanic at Outspokin Bicycles on Walton Way, pedaled alongside the support car.
Mr. Williams said the Charleston deaths struck home with him and his co-workers, because the Richmond County Fire Department is similar in size.
"We were just talking about how much it would have affected us to lose nine guys," Mr. Williams said. "That would be like losing three stations in Augusta."
Mr. Williams, an amateur bike racer, said he decided to use his hobby to benefit the families the men left behind.
"I just thought it might be a good way to utilize my passion for cycling and try to make a difference with these families since these men weren't there to help them anymore," he said.
So far, Mr. Williams said last week, he and Mr. Rousseau had covered about 750 miles. The two take turns riding while the other one drives.
With the help of his coworkers from Station 6 on Richmond Hill Road, Mr. Williams said he has been able to raise about $6,000 for the families so far. The money will be distributed through the Augusta chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
"The Augusta Fire Department has been a bigger part of this than me," he said. "They're pedaling the bike for me."
Mr. Williams said he and Mr. Rousseau have been staying at fire stations across the country - a testament to the close bond of those in his profession.
He said he expects to pass through Augusta on Oct. 7 on the way to his finish in Charleston on Oct.15.
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show Your Support
You can follow Laddie Williams and Scott Rousseau on their cross-country bicycle trip in support of the families of Charleston firefighters by logging onto their daily blog at www.ride4c9.com. Donations can be made through the Web site's PayPal feature, or by mail. Links can also be found on the Augusta Professional Firefighters Web site at www.iaff3357.org and Mr. Williams' MySpace page at www.myspace.com/ride4c9.