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County Hall Corner: What a Ride!

By the time you read this column, the 9/11 Memorial Ride will probably have come and gone. If you live in Lycoming County, there is a good chance that you had the opportunity to see the waves and waves of motorcycles going by with their American flags waving behind them. With thousands of riders each year, and tens of thousands lining the streets and highways watching, it is truly a ‘memorable’ annual event for our area.

There are many moving parts in making this event happen every year as it does, and one of the reasons for the success is the tremendous cooperation that takes place throughout the county. Each of the various municipalities must approve the usage of their roadways for the event, and local support must be supplied to protect the riders, as well as the other vehicles on the road at the time. This is much more complex than it may sound.

The America’s 9/11 Ride was canceled last year specifically because of the ongoing difficulties in these logistics. Of course, that ride is much longer (it goes from Shanksville, PA to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and on to NYC), but even smaller rides such as the one in Bakersville, California and other parts of the United States have found that the public authorities are growing increasingly wearied with an event that seems to be wearing out its welcome.

However, the opposite appears to be happening here in Lycoming County. For seventeen years now, the 9/11 Memorial Ride has etched its way into the county’s consciousness, celebrated as much by the on-lookers along the way as by the bikers who come from all over Pennsylvania and neighboring states to participate.

The logistics require months of preparation. As noted above, permission and cooperation must be gained from the various communities that the ride will travel. It begins in Clinton Township, then goes through Armstrong Township, South Williamsport, Duboistown, the city of Williamsport, Loyalsock Township, Montoursville, Fairfield Township, Muncy Township, Wolf Township, Hughesville, Muncy Creek Township, Muncy Borough, and finally back through Clinton Township again. That is a LOT of municipalities, and a lot of streets and roads to monitor. Quite frankly, the ride would be impossible were it not for the hundreds of fire police who stand as sentinels, positioning themselves hours before the actual ride takes place and then standing through whatever weather throws their way to guard the roads so that the bikers can travel safely, and others are not endangered.

Fire police in Pennsylvania are not simply firemen directing traffic. Pennsylvania state law Title 35 is the act governing this position, and they are technically under the authority of the city, borough, or township they represent. They are to be sworn in by the mayor, borough council president or township supervisor chairman, as they have limited police power to provide protection. It takes 18 hours of in-class training to be initially certified as a fire policeman and another 18 hours to be fully certified. The training instructors for this region are first-rate, as one of the two principle instructors is Sheriff Mark Lusk.

All official fire police officers are sworn officers of the law and, when on duty, display a badge of authority and are subject to the control of the chief of police of the city, borough, town or township in which they are serving, or if none, of a member of the Pennsylvania state police. Disobeying a fire police officer is the same as disobeying a police officer, sheriff’s deputy, state constable or state trooper and assaulting one is a felony. Yet, for all this, they are volunteers.

So, for those who were annoyed that they got stuck in traffic, or were inconvenienced for a short time by a seemingly inflexible fire policeman during the ride — instead of fuming in frustration, next time try thanking them for their thankless sacrifice and service. The inspirational 9/11 ride could not happen without them.

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