CLEVELAND — First Energy Stadium played host not to the Cleveland Browns on Thursday but, instead, nearly a dozen teams of firefighters and first responders from across the region. Organized by the non-profit Hockey Helping Heroes and Cleveland Firefighters Local 93, the first ever Cleveland Firefighters Hockeyfest raised money to send family members of fallen firefighters to see their loved one’s name added to the IAFF Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Colorado.
Among the 18 names from the region that are to be added to the wall this year is Johnny Tetrick, a beloved veteran Cleveland firefighter that was tragically killed in a hit-and-run in late November.
Firefighters and other first responders from regional departments, including Pittsburgh, Detroit, Columbus and others, comprised the 10 teams that participated in the charity event. The event had previously been rescheduled due to unseasonably warm temperatures and rain last month. The event was held in Cleveland for the first time, due in large part to a temporary hockey rink installed at First Energy Stadium for the "Faceoff on the Lake" hockey game between Michigan and Ohio State on Feb. 18. The first ever hockey game at First Energy drew a crowd of more than 45,000.
Don Zender, the director of the First Responder Faceoff Foundation, said the event would not have been possible if not for the assistance of Local 93, the Cleveland Browns, and other sponsors.
“These teams are out doing great things and raising money all year long. When we saw that [the rink] was going to be brought in this winter, we reached out to the Browns and said we’d like to have six hours of ice time. What can we do?” Zender said. “Look at the smiles on their faces. These guys love this.”
The event was the culmination of several months of planning, dating back to August. Local 93 secretary Jake Konys admitted that he didn’t know what to expect as to whether the event would succeed. Instead, he quickly found out how willing the Browns, the city and other organizations would be in helping the event come together. It was only until a couple of months ago that Cleveland had a bonafide team, which inevitably became two teams comprised of firefighters, police officers and EMS.
“One of our goalies for our second team is the wife of one of our firefighters. We’ve got EMS personnel on our team. We have police officers. We call ourselves the Cleveland firefighter hockey team but really its Cleveland public safety,” Konys said. “Everybody wants to an opportunity to get to gather and have a good time. The driving factor has been those 18 names.”
One name in particular stands out. Tetrick, 51, was killed on Nov. 19 while responding to a crash scene on I-90 near Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Another motorist allegedly drove through the crash site and struck Tetrick before fleeing the scene. He was later arrested and has been charged with Tetrick’s death.
Affable, respected and beloved, Tetrick spent 27 years at the Cleveland Division of Fire. Most of his time was spent on Engine 22. One of Tetrick’s three daughters dropped the first puck Thursday morning. Dozens of firefighters joined her on the ice.
“We had an amazing outpouring of support when we lost Johnny,” Konys said. “We want to make sure we are paying it forward and we’re sharing the love. It’s come back to us 10 fold. The more we try to give the more it comes back. That’s the brotherhood that everybody talks about.”