PEORIA — For Jim Purdue, the choice was simple to help start a local station of the Fire and Iron motorcycle club.
Season 2 Episode 29 Has Motorcycle Protocol Outlived its usefulness
“You end up spending more time with the guys at your station then you do with your family,” said the retired firefighter who worked with the Knoxville Community Fire Protection District. The sense of family has spurred the members of the Peoria club to help others, and, in effect, continue their service during their off time.
“It’s a calling,” he said.
Motorcycle clubs for decades have been involved in charitable actions and most aren’t like the gritty ones depicted on TV. Fire & Iron was started in 1999 in Daytona Beach and spread with “stations” — their term for local chapters — across the United States and overseas. It is that camaraderie, says Erik Vallianatos, the local club’s vice president and a firefighter with the Limestone Fire Protection District, that makes the club so important.
Another reason was the death by suicide of his stepdaughter last year. As such, the club has devoted hours of time and service to suicide prevention and awareness.
“That’s a big thing for me. It hit home pretty hard for my wife and I last year,” he said. “So many kids are committing suicide and we are tired of seeing it. We, the first-responders, are often the first on the scene and see the aftermath first-hand. Suicide in the fire service and for all first-responders is higher than any other group out there.”
To that end, the club has organized fundraisers and set up a scholarship in the girl’s name at Limestone Community High School where she graduated. And the group has worked with Hult Center for Healthy Living in Peoria for other service-related things.
But being firefighters, the scourge of fire and what it can do to people is never far. For that reason, the national organization has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children’s burn centers across the nation. Here in Illinois, the stations in various cities have done their own fundraisers to help with the cause. Again, it’s all part of the idea of service first, the two men say.
And it’s something that makes the brotherhood that much deeper. It’s a co-ed club unlike many MCs and organizes events for both families and club members.
Members of motorcycle clubs will often speak of bonds within the group. Purdue said for Fire and Iron, it’s deeper.
“The normal everyday people, they see the stuff on the news, they see a car accident, they see it tore apart but they don’t realize how much work and training it to takes to get in there and get the job done as fast as you can,” he said. “And we deal with death on a daily basis. we can’t come home with that.
“Here, we have to have a place to vent. Who else would you trust to vent to than someone who was there or who has been through the same thing?” he said.