News 12 First at Five, September 5, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---Augusta firefighter Laddie Williams is about to start on the trip of a lifetime that will take him across the country. It's his way of honoring the nine Charleston firefighters who died in a furniture store fire this summer.
The images are unforgettable. Nine men trapped inside a burning store.
Days later, a grieving city struggled to cope with the loss of so many at once.
"Charleston's department is very similar size to Augusta," Williams said. "The effect it would have had on our department would have been immense."
Williams is already an accomplished cyclist, but he's been training for weeks for a 3000 mile journey that will take him through deserts, valleys, plains, and towering mountains.
"It's a long trip...so I guess uphill at the beginning would be a great start," he laughed.
Williams will stay at firehouses all along the way. Cities across the land will help raise money for the families of the nine.
Williams' home station is Number 13 on Lumpkin Road. The people there, including his crewmates on Aerial Truck 4 are part of the team.
"They've been so helpful, in just organizing everything. They're doing a charity dinner, they're fundraising, they're covering my shifts--donating time," Williams said. "It means a lot to them too. If they could pedal the bike for me, I'm sure they would."
There are plans to meet with the families when Williams gets to Charleston. It will be an emotional time.
"If you picture the people you work with, we spend 24 hours a day with each other every third day. They become an extended part of your family. If you think about losing nine of them, It just has a deep effect on you," Williams said.
Laddie Williams leaves Thursday for California. His ride starts September 11, the day 343 New York City firefighters died six years ago.
He'll ride through Augusta on the way back and hopes to be in Charleston in mid-October.
Donations can be sent to:
APFF/Ride for Charleston 9
PO BOX 1623
Augusta, GA 30903