Firefighters ride bikes to Jersey shore

This year's trek to Belmar honors colleagues lost Sept. 11

Wednesday, July 31, 2002


Even on their days off, when firefighters aren't weighed down with bunker gear, they're easy to spot: The big smiles, the jokes that fly a mile a minute, and the shirts that almost always bear their company's patch.

So when a group of guys assembled in front of the Veterans Road Driving Range in Charleston yesterday, it was easy to tell they were firefighters.

They were there for the 12th annual DeathRide, in which members of the department get together and ride bicycles down to the Jersey shore for some fun and relaxation.

"The name started as a joke," said Lt. Fred Cappetta of Engine Co. 245 in Brooklyn, a resident of Travis and one of the pioneers of the trip. "Everyone told us we were going to die trying to make this ride, and the name just stuck."

"This year is a weird year, and we thought of changing the name, but we decided to stick with it and honor our friends and all the firefighters who died on September 11th," he said.

Three of those friends in particular -- Tottenville resident Paul Pansini of Engine Co. 10 in Manhattan, and two members of Manhattan's Ladder Co. 15, Arthur Barry of Westerleigh and Eric Olsen of Eltingville -- were past participants in the trek.

"All three of them," Cappetta said. "They were just really great guys."

The ride starts on the New Jersey-side of the Outerbridge Crossing. Since participants can't ride over the bridge, a few guys throw the bikes in their trucks and bring them over.

Then they follow the bikers as "support vehicles" in case something goes wrong -- like a flat tire.

As legend goes, Pansini was famous for his flat tires, and suffered four in the first few miles of the trip a few years ago.

This year's destination was Belmar, a 40-mile, four-hour ride down Route 35 South.

"We're going to stop every 10 miles so everyone can catch up and regroup," Cappetta said before leaving yesterday. "We have a 10-foot shoulder most of the way down."

There isn't a shoulder at the Route 9 South merge on the other side of the bridge, but the Sayreville Police Department was supposed to escort the riders through the treacherous stretch of highway.

So what's on the agenda when they get down to the shore?

"We're going to park the cars down by the beach, go swimming, relax a little," said Cappetta. "Then we're going to go out and get a little silly."

Belmar was chosen because -- like every year -- the younger cyclists throw their summer rental homes to the mercy of their brothers.

Cappetta was amazed at the turnout yesterday. He explained that the number of riders normally fluctuates between three and 20, but this year over 30 had promised to show up.

News of this year's ride spread by word of mouth. Yesterday, 16 were ready and raring to go in the morning and the rest promised to meet them down the shore.

Tom Narducci of West Brighton, a firefighter at Engine Co. 10, turned out yesterday for his fifth trek. Since he's had the chance to ride before, he decided to drive this year and give some of the new guys a chance to bike their way down.

"This is great," he said. "We've got a lot of support. It shows how much our brothers meant to us. It's incredible."

Firefighters showed up from all around New York to take part in the ride -- many for their first time.

"Eventually we'll make it," said Brian Cutrona of Eltingville, assigned to Engine Co. 245.

Brooklyn resident Ben Galarza of his borough's Ladder Co. 161 said he was looking forward to it and, like Cutrona, found out about the ride from a posting in his firehouse.

As the last few stragglers began to show up, it wasn't yet 10 a.m., and already the sun was beating down and the heat was nothing less than stifling.

But they're firefighters, and a little heat is nothing new.

"It shouldn't be that bad," said Cappetta. "It looks like the wind will be in our faces. We've done this on hotter days."