Firefighter Jason Czora returned home to Western New York from Colorado Monday. He returned the hard way - by bicycle.
"I'd much rather be running into burning buildings than do this bike trip anytime soon."
On August 17, Czora began riding his bicycle at the Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Colorado Springs, CO. Late Monday afternoon, he rode his bicycle up to the Engine 21/Ladder 6/Rescue 1 Buffalo Fire house at Jefferson Avenue and Kingsley Street, 1,565 miles from the beginning.
The Buffalo Fire lieutenant said he raised at least $13,000 for a New York City-based foundation that helps firefighters, police and traumatically wounded veterans. That is why he rode almost 1,600 miles with 90 pounds of bike and gear to help the Stephen Siller Foundation, named for a New York City firefighter killed on 9/11.
"We've had firefighters, Chris Dill in particular, who was killed in Iraq. Service members, they allow us to do what we do on a daily basis and to know that service members that have gone to serve for us and to come home disabled, to know that they are being taken care of is as important," Czora said.
Fire vehicles at Rescue 1 had names memorializing Buffalo firefighters killed in the line of duty, as Czora arrived with an escort from the Erie County Sheriff's Department.
Czora said he became interested in the organization because what started as a New York City organization has spread across the country and expanded its mission.
"They did a lot of work after a couple of hurricanes in the New York City area and then they were paying off mortgages when firefighters and police officers were killed in the line of duty, locally in New York City and then they started off branching out," Czora said. "They paid off two police officers that were killed in Des Moines, IA. They paid off their mortgages. A couple of police officers were killed in Dallas last year. Their mortgages they paid off."
Czora said he was touched by the reaction of one of the firefighter widows.
"She was very emotional. Her husband just been killed, two days prior, and they were telling her that she's got kids that she has to support and she's just lost this income, but she's never going to have another mortgage payment because they're paying off her mortgage," he said. "They had the papers right in front of her and it's paid off right here. Boom. Done."
The Siller Foundation has also built more than 30 smart homes for severely disabled veterans.